Day 3: 4 October 2010
This is what happens when you don’t blog for one day: you can’t remember what had taken place the day before, particularly when your body is fighting hard to adjust to the 12-hour time difference.
Picture above: From left to right – Sara Binder, Thomas Mann, EJ Dionne Jr, William Galston and Michael McDonald
Thankfully, there is such a thing as the digital voice recorder to help remind me of the interesting forum called Midterm Elections 2010: Driving Forces, Likely Outcomes, Possible Consequences by the Brookings Institute on Monday morning. (The recording of the session can be accessed here.) Brookings is a non-profit organisation based in Washington DC. It aims to conduct high-quality, independent research which results in innovative recommendations that help to strengthen American democracy, amongst other things.
If you’re not really familiar with American politics, like me, it may be a bit difficult to follow the line of discussions by the distinguished speakers; each with extremely impressive credentials. You’ll also hear terms such as partisan gridlock, tea party (also read this article by Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal magazine), filibuster, gerrymandering (which I was relieved to know), etc. and you wonder to yourself whether they’re speaking in English.
The speakers were no doubt incredibly articulate, knowledgeable and witty as they often took the opportunity to inject humour into their speeches. Despite having some difficulty to fully comprehend the issues at hand, I found them enrapturing.
One can conclude from the forum that the forecast seems to favour the Republican in the coming mid-term elections.
Pictures above: Top – Linda explaining the structure of the two political parties; the National Democratic/Republican Committee. Bottom: The ACYPL Fall Delegates. From top (left to right) – Rizki Affiat, Ellin Rozana, Aura Landar-Layese, Ibdil Ishak, Benedicto Savellano, Rajiv Rishyakaran & Lim Chee Wei. From bottom (left to right) – Betty Idroos, Ivy Martia Lei Ballitoc, Daisy Gamale, Linda Rotunno & Lim Ka Ea
In the afternoon, Linda Rotunno, the Chief Executive Officer of ACYPL, gave us an overview of ACYPL and the US Government. As a self-professed Democrat, it was evident that Linda has been profoundly touched and inspired by President Barack Obama. It was also clear on her facial expression and manner of speaking that she is frustrated with the declining support given to the President by majority of Americans in recent months. According to her, this is one of the toughest periods in American politics since the economic depression in the 1930s. It is a bleak period where majority of Americans are afraid of losing their jobs and this translates to taking desperate and not necessarily wise decisions.
She gave an example of how democracy does not always deliver the best results, especially when it’s being executed without proper information, nor wisdom. She told the story of Adrian Fenty, the 6th mayor of District Columbia, who single-handedly reformed the education system in lower-income areas of DC. He got rid of teachers who did not care too much for teaching and improved the overall quality of education in public schools. However, he got voted out in the next election by the people who needed him most to help raise the education standards of their children which will hopefully contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Day 4: 5 October 2010
We started the morning early by driving across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Arlington county. There, we met Linda Lindberg who works as the General Registrar of Arlington County Officer of Voter Registration. We were given a thorough explanation of how voter registrations are carried out right up to the ballots being cast on election day.
The most unusual practice found in America as compared to Malaysia is the ability of those who are unable to vote during election day to send in their votes in advance via the absentee voting mechanism. The voters can send their votes either through email, post or in person at their respective county offices.
What was also interesting is the number of people who have told us that electoral fraud is rare. Security measures to counter double or phantom voting such as indelible ink and presentation of identification card at the ballot station are absent.
We also met with Amy Cenicola, Jim McCray and Michael Toner, individuals who work as fundraising consultants for the two political parties. Jim summarised the whole session succinctly. He said that the strength of a candidate is measured by the amount of funds he/she is able to generate. President Obama so far holds the record of generating more than USD700 million for his Presidential campaign and in his opinion, this is only the beginning as he sees greater potential in the President.
Management of campaign fund is pretty transparent in America. They claim that by just logging on to opensecrets.org, one can literally make a search on every individual that has contributed to which party in America. Foreigners, apparently, won’t be in the list.