Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES — When I read the headline, I thought it was a joke. When I read the entire article, however, I found out it was a serious remark made by President Barack Obama during a speech delivered in Cleveland. There, the president expressed sincere concern over low voter turnouts during official elections.
“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” the US president said, referring to possibility of making voting mandatory in the United States. Of course Obama knows that’s impossible, what with a Republican majority in Congress, and a little short of impossible with a Democrat Congress, because Americans cherish the freedom to do as they want on election day (be it during the presidential or mid-term elections), and only a minority opts to cast their ballot to vote for their favorite candidates.
In the last two US elections, less than 70 porcent of voters registered and, of these, less than 50 percent turned up to vote. That is to say, less than 35 percent of the electorate actually voted (through a recent study claims that, at the last mid-term election, 37 percent of the population voted).
Among other things, these data reflect the lack of confidence in the electoral system that citizens have and the apathy that electing leaders awakens in them, knowing that most of the problems that affect them will not be solved, even if that’s promised during an electoral campaign.
The tendency not to vote is even more widespread among the young, who are generally not committed to any one traditional party, and among minorities, who have seen presidents, senators and representatives go by and not one who has solved a single one of their problems. The two most recent examples we can point to are the medical attention plan Obama presented to Congress and the migratory reform. Both were campaign promises and none was approved by Congress. Similarly, Obama has not been able to keep his promise that he would shut down Guantanamo. These contradictions make voters increasingly lose their confidence in the system and their leaders.
I don’t want to make facile comparisons, because we are dealing with two completely different systems, but in Cuba, where the vote is not mandatory either, more than 90 percent of voters turn up at the ballot boxes during elections, to choose municipal candidates every two and a half years, and parliamentary representatives every five years.
As we know, the National Assembly, which represents the whole of the people, elects the members of the Council of State and its Chair. This, in my opinion, makes Cuba’s system of citizen participation much more democratic that the United States’ two-party system, where one can be elected president with less votes than one’s opponent, and where Congress, if dominated by the other party’s majority, makes it impossible for the president’s decisions to be materialized, even when these are in the interests of the majority. Obama may have been thinking about all of this when he suggested his country should make it mandatory to vote.