Update, February 4, 2009 – We’ve learned Iraqi officials confirmed that among those who exercised their right to vote was none other than Muntazer al-Zaidi, the journalist who gained international fame for throwing his shoes at former President George W. Bush. Mr. Zaidi is currently detained facing charges of “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit.” So, the right to vote was even extended to an Iraqi citizen in jail for a crime against an American president, and yet here in America too many of our nation’s citizens are denied this right because of a criminal conviction.
International news agencies are reporting today that more than 600,000 Iraqis will be voting at provincial centers in advance of a larger election day this weekend. More remarkable, however, is the fact that Iraqi citizens being held in the nation’s prisons and jails are among the thousands voting in the world’s newest democracy.
“Brothers and sisters, only hours are left separating us from this unforgettable day, election day,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told an election rally in the southern city of Amara.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, all Iraqi citizens 18 years or older are eligible to vote. This brings Iraqi elections in line with those of most European countries, and Hong Kong, India, Ghana, Israel, South Africa, among others, all of which allow people in prison to vote.
The United States lags far behind this worldwide trend among democracies to encourage all citizens to participate in theirgovernment. In the United States, only Maine and Vermont allow incarcerated persons to vote, and thirty-five states continue to disenfranchise people even after they leave prison and return to the community.
“I think elections will be such an incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people,” Former President Bush stated in the last round of Iraqi voting. “This administration firmly believes that if people are given a right to express themselves in a ballot in the ballot box, in the public square, and through a free and open press, it’ll lead to peace.”
The New York Times reported that the special elections went relatively smoothly with thousands of soldiers, policeman and prisoners casting their ballots. Today, all Iraqis are able to vote in their nation’s election. If the United States’ claims of exporting democracy to the world are ever to be credible, isn’t it time we imported some of those lessons to our citizens here at home?