Monday, September 26, 2005

"Out of Country" Voting (OCV) in Conflict Zones

Just got the new copy of "Democracy (at sign) Large"in my mailbox.

In a special section on elections, there is a fine article by Ben Goldsmith, current the Deputy Chief Elections Officer in Afghanistan.

Ben writes about the challenges facing a nation that wants to encourage political participation by all of its citizens, but which has a large diaspora, in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq (the two cases considered in the article), disaporas caused by recent war and continuing civil unrest.

I can't do justice to the article here, and encourage everyone to look at it, but in brief, Ben considers:

  • The political question. Do domestic political actors want the diaspora to vote? How large is the diaspora relative to the domestic population? Will including the diaspora help stablize the new regime by encouraging participation of citizens presumably living in more stable settings, or will there be suspicion about those living abroad, presumably subject to "foreign" influences?
  • The registration question. Presuming that you have decided to allow citizens living abroad to vote, how do you confirm their qualifications?
  • The diplomatic question. Not every county will welcome campaign mobilization by a foreign nation within its borders. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ben has a nice discussion of how "Memoranda of Understanding" (MOU) were required with Iran, Pakistan, and 12 other nations.
  • The cost and administration questions. Simple enough: who pays for what will be more complicated and presumably more expensive election machinery? How will you actually administer the ballots (by mail? with local election machinery? at diplomatic missions?).

These are but a few of the important questions that are raised by OCV elections. In the specific cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, as an illustration, the country's handled the difficult issue of timing (elections were held so rapidly after the end of the conflict) by allowing citizens to "register" and "vote" at the same time, and then keeping the records available for challenge.

I've written about diaspora and OCV elections in this blog. Mexico has legalized voting by citizens living in the United States. This will in all likelihood result in massive GOTV and campaign rallies in LA, San Diego, and other American cities. Other countries, including Ghana, Phillipines, Israel, and Sri Lanka have recently relazed expatriate voting requirements.

It will be interesting to see how the administrative hurdles are overcome, but perhaps more interesting will be the new political dynamics that are created by these new, large, and potentially highly influential expatriate voting segments.


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