Tag Archives: elections

How the Tunisian Electoral Authority Robbed Me of the Right to Vote

Nidaa Tounes party wins Tunisia parliamentary elections

Chafik Sarsar, the head of the Tunisian electoral authority (ISIE)

It all started when I initially registered myself to vote in the 2014 legislative elections in New York City. I live in Denver, so I figured it is the best office to vote in since I can usually find pretty cheap air tickets to the Big Apple. Besides, I have a few friends there I could always say hello to – never mind that it is close to 1,800 miles away from where I live. Thing is, it was still too expensive to travel.

The electoral commission offered all residents living and voting abroad the option to change their voting locations. The process was simple enough: send in a copy of your passport, a confirmation of your initial registration, and fill out a PDF form that the ISIE provides. Send it in to your regional representatives, and they will send them back to Tunisia for the ISIE to review. Still with me? Alright. Since I would be visiting The Hague, Netherlands, during the presidential elections (21-23 November), I decided to change my voting location to that office.

I sent in all required documentations. Mind you – all North and South American cities and ‘rest of Europe’ voting locations are part of the same voting district. Districts for Tunisians living abroad are as follows: France 1, France 2, Germany, Italy, Arab world countries, and Americas and rest of Europe. In theory, since you are still within the same district, you should be able to vote in any voting location within it, correct? No. Not according to the electoral authority. For the legislative elections, the ISIE made everyone re-register in order to vote, and if you chose New York (or Houston, or Vienna, or whichever city in the same district): you best believe that that is where you will vote. It is like telling someone: hey sorry, I know you’re still within X county, but you must go to that school (miles away) in order to vote.

Moving on. I submitted all of my documentation to the regional office, and they courteously responded to me confirming that my folder had all the required paperwork and that it was complete. They would then send it to the main authority in Tunis, and wait to hear back.

Tonight, the ISIE released the names of those ‘selected’ to vote. My name was not on there – and neither were the names of many, many others in my district who had requested the change. In the Montreal office, only 3 people were accommodated. THREE. We were not given any reason or justification as to why we were not selected.

To say I feel furious is really an understatement. I am a full Tunisian citizen who has yet to vote even once because of (you guessed it) incompetence coming from the electoral authority. I was so excited to finally be voting for the first time, to be exercising the most fundamental of my rights. But the ISIE decided that it could arbitrarily choose who can vote and who cannot. It decided that it has the power to rob citizens of their rights.

The regional representatives did not have much to say but remind those rejected that it is ‘up to the ISIE’ to decide whose request can be accommodated. The photo below quotes: “The fact that your folder is complete does not guarantee an acceptance from ISIE. Almost every day we have published on our page that it is solely ISIE than can or cannot accept the request. We understand your frustration, but we unfortunately have no further answers than you do.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 8.17.44 PM

Something tells me that politics have to do with it. Though I do not know for certain whether my application was rejected based on political views, I do know this:

  • The ISIE has made it very difficult for Tunisians abroad to practice their right to vote
  • Many instances have been reported where, during the legislative elections, certain individuals would suddenly not find their names in the offices they are registered in (thus, rendering them unable to vote)
  • Some instances have been reported of bureau members convincing their friends (usually with the same political convictions) to go vote, and fill up the booths for the legislative elections

The parliamentary elections were bad enough – extreme disorganization in the offices abroad reigned supreme. Now, the presidential elections will be even worse.

The saddest part is that I have not felt this angry at my country since the times of Ben Ali. Those were the times I felt like my country was constantly rejecting me, making me a second-class citizen every time I tried to open my mouth about this or that, or tried to exercise very basic rights and duties. Today, I feel the very same way.

I feel injustice, and I feel robbed.

I call on the judicial authorities in Tunisia to initiate an investigation and find answers to the following question: under what basis were Tunisian citizens forfeited their right to vote? Why were the location change requests denied? And under what basis? 

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Arabs Barack-ing the Vote Next Week

According to the Arab-American Institute, there are now nearly 3.5 million Arab-Americans in the United States – up from a total of 1.5 million in 2000, and around 1 per cent of the US population. A whopping 94 per cent reside in metropolitan areas of major cities, while 48 per cent reside in California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Florida. The Arab vote has largely gone unnoticed in US elections due to its heavy concentration in mostly Democratic cities and due to their tendency to lean democrat. However, this has not always been the case. For example in 1996, exit polls reported 54 per cent of Arab-Americans voting for Bill Clinton, 38 per cent for Bob Dole and 7.7 per cent for independent candidate H. Ross Perot.

Since the 1996 elections though, Arab-Americans have become more prominent and homogeneous of a voting block. In a close election such as this year’s, Arab-Americans may just tip the balance – especially in contentious states like Virginia and Michigan, and of course Ohio. According to Zogby, there are 135,000 and 185,000 Arab-Americans in Virginia and Ohio alone, respectively. Maximizing Arab-American turn-out becomes increasingly important, particularly for Democrats working on critical swing states.

The think-tank TUNESS conducted a survey between October 20 and October 26 examining the opinion of the Arab community in the US towards the 2012 elections. The survey included 222 respondents from 26 states, and representing 15 Arab countries. The sample was evenly divided amongst US citizens and those who are not eligible to vote (permanent residents or on visa).  75 per cent of sample’s respondents were of North African descent, and 70 per cent resided in the North East. Weights were applied to map back to the distribution of Arab-Americans by state, as per the 2009 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.

The survey revealed overwhelming support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, with 84 per cent saying they would vote for him, and only 5 per cent voting for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The remaining 11 per cent is undecided or would vote for another party. Similar to other voting groups, the majority of women intend to vote for Obama (87 per cent women said they would vote for him, as opposed to 82 per cent of men).

Demographic divides also echo the views of the rest of the population. Respondents over the age of forty are less likely to vote or choose Obama (82 per cent vs. 87 per cent). Responders who are eligible to vote show lower support for Obama (90 per cent vs 79 per cent), while there is a larger proportion of undecided voters amongst responders who do not follow the elections closely. We observe similar trends when we look at the favorability of the candidates.

Why Do Arabs Like Obama?

The key factors influencing Arab-American voters are, in descending order of importance, foreign policy (24 per cent), the economy (19 per cent), and political program (16 per cent). Surprisingly, only 6 per cent listed the candidate’s likability or affiliation with a political party as key factors in choosing a candidate.

Rating President Obama’s Performance 

61 per cent of respondents rated Obama’s performance as either “good” or “excellent” during his presidency. Obama received the best marks on health care (73 per cent) and education. However, Obama scored low amongst the Arab-American population in regards to Middle East policies, US national debt and immigration. More importantly, only 43 per cent of respondents viewed Obama’s performance on the economy – a key issue in the elections – as good or excellent.

The Arab Spring 

Although Obama is the overwhelming favorite in the Arab community, the response to his performance with respect to the Arab spring is a mixed bag. Obama gets good marks for his intervention and response in Tunisia and Egypt, and to a lesser extent Libya. Yet, he scores very poorly in regards to his response in Bahrain and Yemen. Some respondents feel that, “A tougher hand on the Syrian regime is evidently needed. In Bahrain, some more democracy won’t hurt.” Another comment was that “Obama’s trademark ‘Wait and See’ when it comes to foreign policy. He has failed miserably when it comes to tectonic changes such as those in the Middle East.”

Respondents were also asked which candidate would be more likely to bring a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. About 45 per cent of the sample said that neither candidate is likely to succeed and another 38 per cent said that Obama is more likely to succeed. An Obama presidency is also considered to be a better for the Arab world for the majority of the sample (72 per cent, as opposed to Mitt Romney, receiving only 2 per cent). A significant 17 per cent of the sample feels that neither presidency would be good for the Arab-World.

Implications 

The Arab community believes that Obama’s strengths lie in healthcare and education, while his handling of the Arab Spring, the economy, immigration, and the US national debt are highly criticized. Yet, 82 per cent intend to or would vote for him, and his favorability rating exceeds 80 per cent. As such, despite a mixed bag review with respect to his performance in the office and his handling of the Arab revolutions, Obama enjoys the overwhelming support of the Arab population residing in the United States. This seems tied to the antagonism between the Arabs in the US and the republican party which kept growing since 9/11. A recent survey by the American Arab Institute revealed that 57 per cent of republicans had unfavorable views about Arabs.

Obama and the Democratic Party seem thus to dominate this electoral segment without really having worked hard for it as the Republican party seem to have ceded totally ceded the ‘Arab’ and ‘the muslim’ vote. It would seem a rather risky bet especially in an election that will be decided on the margins.

Survey Methodology

Results for this TUNESS poll were collected on-line and through live in-person  interviews conducted Oct. 20-26, 2012, with a random sample of 220 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in the United States. For results based on the total sample of Individual of Arab descent, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ± 6.58% percentage points.

Samples are weighted by country of origin and state of residence mapping back to the 2009 US Census data and the JZ Analytics estimates for the population of Arab-Americans

For more details on the polling methodology, please contact: moez_hababou@yahoo.com