Saturday, October 16, 2004

Dear Clark County

The Guardian, a prominent British newspaper, is pairing interested readers with independent or unaffiliated voters in Clark County, Ohio as a means of allowing those who live outside the United States to express their views in a direct and meaningful way on the American presidential election. Using a voter registration list obtained from the county clerk in Clark County, The Guardian is sending readers who e-mail the newspaper a single name and address of a registered voter in Clark County along with suggestions for crafting a politely worded letter. Although the project was presented to readers in a non-partisan fashion, Ian Katz, features editor for The Guardian, concedes that most Britons--and certainly most Guardian readers--are likely to favor John Kerry.

As of 6:00 p.m. (GMT) on Friday, 11,658 people had contacted The Guardian to request the name and address of a political pen pal in Clark County. While most requests were from readers in the U.K., the paper reports that readers from around the world, including France, China, Brazil, and Eritrea, had written in.

Katz said, "For millions of people around the world, this election will have far more of an impact on our lives than even elections in their own country, and this is a way for non-Americans to have some say."

Needless to say, conservatives are apoplectic and many have suggested that foreigners have no business trying to influence the outcome of an American election. It is, however, merely a letter-writing campaign. It's not as if the British are using their intelligence service to incite the overthrow of a democratically elected president (as the United States did in Chile with Salvador Allende and in Vietnam with Ngo Dinh Diem). It's not as if the British are prepared to assassinate an American leader (as the United States was in the Congo with Patrice Lumumba and in Cuba with Fidel Castro). It's not even as if the British had announced an intention to teach us "to elect good men" (as Woodrow Wilson said in reference to "the South American republics") or to keep score on us (as we do on them--and everyone else in the world--with the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices). The Guardian, and the readers who have responded to its campaign, are merely trying to express their opinions to Americans about an election that does, in fact, have tremendous significance for non-Americans. What's wrong with that?

The United States would gain in both power and moral authority if Americans, and their government, were to heed the advice of the Declaration of Independence and pay "a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind."