WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just a few short weeks ago, I was in Afghanistan as the people of that war-torn, impoverished country prepared to cast a presidential ballot for the first time in history. On Oct. 9, Election Day, entire families braved gunfire, mines and intimidation -- often walking miles just so that a father and mother could cast a vote for their first democratically elected head of state.
Even the most cynical spectator had to acknowledge that "Voting Day" was a celebratory event for the people of Afghanistan. And this week, there was more festivity, as Afghani election officials, closely monitored by international observers, confirmed that Hamid Karzai had won by a landslide. Barely mentioned was another cause for celebration: More than 70 percent of Afghanistan's registered voters had cast a ballot. Too bad we won't have that kind of turnout here.
Next Tuesday, Americans will have the opportunity to trek a few blocks -- or at most a few miles in a car -- to a local polling place and pull a lever, punch a button, touch a screen or mark an electronically scanned ballot to record their choice for president of the United States. And, if all goes as hoped, later that night there will be revelry in the victor's camp. But there won't be any celebrations like those in Afghanistan -- where the people rejoiced simply because they had participated in one of the most singular of group activities: gathering at a particular time and place to cast a secret ballot for their leader. Here in America, we're far too sophisticated for such simple pleasures.
On Nov. 2, millions of eligible American voters won't even bother to cast a ballot -- and even many of those who do won't be doing so at a polling place. The old-fashioned, one-day voting system is fading -- like an old Norman Rockwell print left too long in the sun.
"People today have vastly busier and more complicated lives than in past generations," said Dick Gephardt, so "we (should) change our election laws to make voting more convenient." Policymakers have responded to the challenge. Today, Americans can cast ballots by mail, over the Internet, in-person (early) and in-person (on Election Day). Voters are utilizing these alternative methods en masse. Experts estimate that 25 percent to 30 percent of voters will have cast their ballots before the polls open on Tuesday, in part because 27 states allow citizens to request absentee ballots for any reason. In Oregon, residents don't even have to ask -- citizens can only vote absentee.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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