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An Open Letter to the People of Afghanistan
By Damon Circosta
Published: Aug. 24, 2009
RALEIGH - In light of the recent vote in that country, this is an open letter to the people of Afghanistan.
We here in America have been hearing about the election you had last week. As is the case in most emerging democracies, there are still questions about the validity of the vote. Allegations of voter fraud and poor election security remain.
Holding free and fair elections even in the best of circumstances is no easy task. Holding elections in a war-torn country like yours with mountainous terrain, active hostilities and a broken transportation infrastructure is next to impossible.
Nevertheless, we are really excited you are giving it a go. Thousands of you showed up to cast a ballot. This is remarkable considering there are people in your midst using intimidation and violence to stop you. It’s going to take a little while longer to sort out how free and fair the process was. International observers will critique, pundits will pontificate and your politicians -- winners and losers alike -- will claim victory.
While we watch you take steps towards self-government, it reminds us of how far we in America have come in our quest for democracy. We still have a long way to go, but as the world’s oldest continuing democracy, we are getting pretty good at making sure our election process works.
It is easy to take for granted how far we have come in America. Elections are often bitterly contested and occasionally disputes about the process still arise. But for the most part the system we have built to collect and tabulate votes works pretty well. And when there are irregularities, we have been able to resolve them using our system of laws, not violence or intimidation.
It is no accident that our elections process works well. It is the result of a concerted effort by people who may disagree on policy, but understand the importance of proper elections.
Historically speaking, democracies don’t tend to last very long when there are questions about the validity of an election. Our most basic organizing principle is that our leaders govern with our consent. It makes sense then that we continue to invest in the tools and methods that ensure an accurate vote.
As you work your way towards a stable and functional democracy, here are two big lessons we have learned in our own history of democracy.
First, as our decades-long struggle over civil rights taught us, democracy only works when everyone participates. Excluding people for arbitrary reasons like skin color, gender or religious affiliation invites trouble and discontent. It might work for short-term political gain, but in the long run it has a disastrous effect.
Second, and just as important, the vote must be sacrosanct. It takes extraordinary measures to ensure that everyone can vote and that those votes are properly counted. Unless the vote is beyond reproach, questions of legitimacy can poison your government.
We haven’t perfected our own system yet and it isn’t up to us to decide for you which methods are best. Sometimes, in the midst of a heated election, we here in America can get pretty fed up with the pandering, finger-pointing, negative advertising and all the other annoying things about elections. In the end though, the benefits of living in a country where we can decide for ourselves who we want to lead far outweighs any qualms we have about elections.
We Americans wish you the best of luck.