Ink Stained Hands

>> Monday, February 2, 2009

Reading the reports of the voting in Iraq one thing has become clear, the Iraqis have an excellent system for identifying those who vote and those who dont. Poli Sci research has shown that one of the most effective ways to get people to vote is social pressure and the possibility of being identified as the person who didnt vote. In Iraq the means of identifying those who have done their civic duty is far more effective than the "i voted" sticker handed out at american polling places.

If your not familiar with the Iraq ink system for identifying voters here is a description courtesy of the NYT

Next, each voter will place his or her ballot inside a locked box - and then the piece de resistance of Iraqi elections will take place: Voters will dip their index finger into a vat of indelible ink, which is done to try to prevent people from casting multiple ballots.

In the past, Iraq has used purple ink for this purpose. This time, the color is literally a state secret. Members of the election commission will only say the ink will come from outside the country.

While the design of the program is to increase the trust and legitimacy of the elections the side effect has been to create a point of pride for the iraqi citizenry. Some who dont vote have even tried to replicate the ink process so as to avoid being singled out as a nonvoter,

New York Times stringer in Mosul – HIS FAMILY VOTED.

As a journalist stationed in one voting center, I was not able to vote. It made me very sad at heart that I was sitting out these elections (especially after boycotting the last ones).

After work I rushed to my assigned voting center only to find it long closed. I started blaming myself for not voting before heading to duty. At home, I was overjoyed to see my family’s purple forefingers. I hid my hand in my pocket, slipped to my room and dipped my finger in a bottle of ink. Not out of fear but out of a desire to be part of this great experience.

People underestimate the importance of a social symbol like the ink stained fingers to the construction of a democratic society. It adds cohesiveness by linking the voting citizens to the national identity. In addition, the more prominent the symbol the more people will be driven to obtain it. In the case of an "i voted" display this can only increase participation in the democratic process, something needed in systems that lack legitimacy or where boycotts are common.

One issue with a system where the voter is physically marked in this manner is that it tends to discriminate against absentee voting. I am sure that if a similar ink based system was implemented here in the states that absentee voters would be taken into account. The Democrats have been trying to increase absentee voting as much as possible so it seems like they would want to alleviate any potential discouraging factors.

Looking that the turnout in Iraq there seems to have been a number of logistical problems that prevented turnout from reaching the point many thought it would. These problems include the curfew, failing to find your name on the voting registration and the inability to reach the polling place of registration due to displacement. These problems can be mitigated in future elections and that they indicate the desire to vote instead of apathy is a good sign.

If the Times is to believed the early returns from the election seem to indicate a strengthening of the secular parties and support for current prime minister al-maliki. An increase in the strength of secular parties is also something i would consider to be healthy for the future of an iraqi democracy. I am partial to liberal western rights and that conception and the freedoms that come with it for women, glbt, and minorities will not be likely under an islamic theocracy.

For voting stories from iraq read, here.


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