Even under threat of death, more Iraqis turn out to vote than Americans

About a month ago, T4A.org Convening Guest Vice President Joe Biden wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post entitled, “Iraqis must rise above their differences to rout terrorists.” While the goal of the article was to discuss the need for a diverse and divided country to come together to fight terrorism, there was one sentence that really struck me:

[quote author=”Vice President Joe Biden, The Washington Post”]Since more than 13 million Iraqis cast their ballots in April despite threats from ISIL to kill anyone who voted, Iraqis have convened a new parliament, selected a speaker and president and designated a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to form a new government.[/quote]

This sheer number of people participating in the election shocked me. Particularly with the threat of violence from ISIS, whose actions have terrified those of us living 7,000 miles away, 13 million seemed like a HUGE number. According to CNN, this number constitutes about 60% of the electorate.To put this number in perspective, the turnout for the U.S. 2012 general election was 58.7%.2  To point out the obvious, this means that even with the threat of death, a higher percentage of Iraqis voted in their election than Americans did in ours.

This is the saddest realization I’ve had in a long time. We are a country that prides ourselves on freedom and democracy. There is no gun to our head, threatening to kill us if we vote yet we can barely get half of our electorate to the polls. In fact, we have the opposite problem—our elected officials beg us to vote and each election year money is poured into get-out-the-vote operations and organizations such as Rock the Vote.  We also have groups like Trust the Vote, working hard to incorporate technology into this process to make voting easier.

So why don’t we care? A lot of this apathy comes from the belief that one vote doesn’t make a difference. And while it’s true that our freedom also means that we have the right NOT to vote if we so choose, the fact is that voting is the only way to make our voice heard.  We complain about Congress and lament that they are not representative of the population at large but this is probably because the population at large doesn’t vote. If we want our government to look like us, think like us, and talk like us, then we need to get out there and participate!

I wrote a similar blog post a few months ago, but I think the message bears repeating, especially as we get closer to the midterm elections. We need to do better when it comes to civic participation. To be honest, I’m embarrassed that a country where terrorists threaten to kill anyone who votes has a higher voter turnout that we do. This is a problem and we need to fix it. As citizens, we need to get out there, engage, learn, and participate. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We need government to make voting easier and more appealing. We need researchers to figure out what strategies work.  We also have all of this technology that allows us to request cars on demand or track our physical activity. So I want to a pose a challenge to the tech community: Let’s figure out a way to make voting and civic engagement easier!  If we all pull our talents and expertise together, maybe we can come up with a solution that works.  I know the answer is out there and now is the time to find it.

1 Tawfeeq, M., Gumuchian, M. & Abedine, S. (2014, April 30). Iraqis vote amid worst violence in years. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/30/world/meast/iraq-elections/
2 United States Election Project. (2013, July 22). “2012 General Election Turnout Rates.” Retrieved from http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2012G.html

Featured image and block quote via Biden, Joe. (2014, August 22). Iraqis must rise above their differences to rout terrorists. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/vice-president-biden-iraqis-can-rout-isil-by-rising-above-differences/2014/08/22/0dcfdc06-2a12-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html