I recently found myself travelling alone on a fourteen-hour flight from Washington, DC to Tokyo. I was seated next to another solo traveler, an Egyptian citizen who currently resides in northern Virginia. (Marwan just joined Twitter, so please engage him there if you have any questions about the topic of conversation below.) While talking about our children, he mentioned how wonderful he thought it was that his young son was being encouraged to vote at school (the specific example he mentioned was what type of decorations to use in the classroom), creating in the US what he felt was a “culture of voting.” Marwan himself had made it a point to always vote in Egypt, “even when Mubarak was the only choice”, and discussed voting (at the Egyptian embassy) in the recent parliamentary elections as well as the upcoming presidential election.
At this point I could not resist the following line of questioning (paraphrased, of course, as I was not recording our friendly conversation):
Debbie: Do all citizens have the right to vote in Egypt?
D: Are there non-citizen residents living in Egypt, like you currently live in Virginia?
M: Yes, but not as many as in the US.
D: So when it is time to vote, how do they know that only Egyptian citizens are voting?
M: What do you mean?
D: What would prevent someone living in Egypt who is not an Egyptian citizen from voting?
M: Oh, we have to show our national identification cards.
D: Did you know that in the US you do not have to show identification to vote?
D: Really. (Below is a video from James O’Keefe and Project Veritas demonstrating that identification is not required when voting in Vermont.)
M: Why not?
D: Some people consider requiring identification to be racist.
D: I’m sorry, I can’t explain it very well because almost everyone in Egypt is, well, Egyptian. You come from a mostly homogenous society, so I realize the concept of an identification card being a form of racism doesn’t make much sense to you. The basic argument, at least as far as I understand it, is this: non-whites are more likely to be unable to afford identification, and therefore if identification is required to vote, then requiring identification to vote favors whites. This argument is used even if identification is free, because there is an investment in time and transportation that, so the argument goes, still favors whites over non-whites when it comes to obtaining identification.
It was very interesting to talk to someone about voter identification from such a unique perspective. Please do not think I am advocating a US identification card. The states are perfectly capable of providing identification for their respective citizens. And (please don’t take offense Marwan) I’m certainly not holding Egypt up as an example of all things good in the world, I’m simply presenting the view on this issue of someone who takes their right to vote, albeit in another country, very seriously.