Friday, June 04, 2004

Iraqi Elections

I was having a dream this morning that I was having a debate with a whiny liberal college student about elections and policy in Iraq. Since I woke up ready to argue, I thought I'd channel that into a blog post, since the only adults I'm likely to have conversations with today are my sick husband, and my friend whose husband is returning from Iraq tonight and already agrees with me politically.

So, here was the point I was about to make before Sonshine banged on the door demanding to sleep in our bed:

Some people believe that we should just have elections in Iraq and then get out. OK, let's consider that possibility. How long does it take to organize elections?

Everyone seems to be quoting this statistic that Iraq is the size of California, even though it doesn't even have half California's population. This suggests a ready-made example for us to compare Iraqi elections to: the recent recall election for governor of California. How long did the recall election take? Well, first petitions had to be signed in support of the election; that took many weeks. Then candidates had to be found; each one of them had to either put up money or get signatures to be placed on the ballot. There were hundreds of candidates. Then came the campaign, which was relatively short but IIRC it lasted a couple of months. Ballots had to be printed. Poll workers had to be found. Then the election was held, votes were tallied, etc. After that there was a transition period when outgoing governor Gray Davis tried to sign a bunch of bills that he hadn't signed before because he knew the people would practically lynch him if he did. Since he'd just been lynched, he figured he might as well.

A couple of points about California:
- California has been (small-d) democratic for over a century.
- California already had laws on the books governing elections, and ones governing recall elections for almost a century.
- California is already divided into voting precincts, each of which already owns voting equipment (even if some of it is outdated or was scheduled to be replaced), has a pool of people who can serve as poll workers, and has designated election officials to oversee the election process.
- California already has most of its voters registered. There are always people turning in new registrations, and let's not get started on who's allowed to register, but the bulk of the voters are already registered.
- Californians have a mostly reliable means of identifying registered voters when they show up at the polls.

Even with all these things going for California, it took months to carry out the recall election.

Now let's look at Iraq:
- Iraq has been democratic for less than one year and has never had an election that was real
- Iraq does not have laws governing a fair, democratic election process (previous election law was pretty much "vote for Saddam or we kill someone in your family")
- Iraq may or may not have voting precincts, any equipment it has is likely to be decrepit, and poll workers and election officials from previous "elections" went out with the "Ba'ath water".
- Iraq is overrun by foreigners whose specific intention is to disrupt the Iraqi political process, previously through terrorism but I wouldn't put it past them to try to rig an election
- Because of the above, Iraqis will probably need to re-register to vote. How long does that take? How does one tell the difference between the above foreigners and deserving Iraqi voters?

Now let's just suppose that all of the disadvantages Iraq has over California can be cancelled out by the disadvantages conferred on California by virtue of its size and the fact that Iraqis need not petition for an election. How long do you think it would take to institute democratic elections in Iraq?