NEW YORK—Observers from around the world report that they were inspired and moved by America's most recent attempt to hold a public election in accordance with the standards of a democratic republic.
"After all of the recriminations, infighting, and general madness before the election, the people of this fractured nation still found the courage to show up at the polls," said Anas Salman, an Afghan U.N. official who was in New York during the American electoral experiment. "More than half of America's citizens—a large portion of them women—made a valiant attempt to choose their own leader, even though there was no guarantee their votes would be counted. It was truly inspirational."
In the weeks leading up to the election, both of America's political parties alleged fraud in voter registration. Additionally, experts debated the reliability of electronic voting machines, which experienced problems in trial runs and leave no paper trail. Election officials also bemoaned many states' use of outdated punchcard machines.
Considering such disputes, Salman said he was "touched and gladdened" that voter turnout for the U.S. election nearly approached voter-turnout rates for Afghanistan's first popular elections in October, when 69 percent of citizens cast ballots.
"True, voter turnout in many parts of the world tops 90 percent," Salman said. "But it's understandable that the rate is lower in countries such as Afghanistan, where the government has raised fears of possible terrorist attacks at the polls. Our people showed great courage."
The last American presidential election, held in 2000, was also rife with problems. Myriad scandals arose concerning alleged fraud and ballot tampering. Although the Democratic candidate won the popular vote by a margin of half a million votes, the Republican candidate won the presidency with a strenuously disputed 537-vote lead in Florida, a state governed by his brother.
"Despite the specter of corruption in 2000, and even though the procedural problems which surfaced during the previous election were never remedied, the American people chose to put their faith in the system once again this year," said Joseph Mtume, a Kenyan diplomat who traveled to Ohio to view America's democratic proceedings. "You can't help but feel touched by the determination of these citizens who put their doubts aside to collectively participate in the democratic process. All this in a nation divided by war, where dissent is widespread and the rift between citizens has rarely been higher. It was truly stirring."
Carlos Cruz, an Argentinian diplomat who observed the election in Miami, said he was profoundly moved by America's democratic election.
"With my own eyes, I saw people from all walks of life waiting in long lines to cast their votes, and very few of them were turned away," Cruz said. "They believed in the democratic process, despite the existence of racial gerrymandering of the sort most recently seen in the redistricting of U.S. House seats to negate the impact of Hispanic and black voters in Texas."
Cruz said he was impressed that average citizens still participate in the "current money-dominated electoral process," even though legislators have largely ignored their repeated calls for campaign finance reform.
"Their wide-eyed earnestness was humbling," Cruz said. "Truly, my heart leaps up. I can only hope that, under such demoralizing circumstances, my countrymen would similarly rise together to try and make democracy work."
The multinational watchdog group Organization for Security and Cooperation sent 600 official observers to monitor proceedings, from countries as disparate as North Korea, Syria, and China. Many reported that they came away deeply touched.
"To see a country with such overwhelming problems—problems that affect every last citizen—have so many of its voters feel that they can still influence their leadership… words fail me," said Dae Jung Kim, a North Korean OSC delegate. "Certainly, my report to my own government will emphasize this. I will recommend that my leaders implement such American election-time strategies and tactics as would fit the North Korean model of personal freedom, such as their elegant Electoral College and the inscrutable voting machine."