New project lets Britons give their votes to foreigners
LONDON - There is, of course, an Israeli making waves in Britain's elections. No, he is not a candidate. He is not a lobbyist, a strategist, a financial supporter or even a Mossad operative.
Rather, the unassuming 26-year-old student in frayed jeans is a global activist who, together with a handful of others, has launched an initiative called Give Your Vote - in which British citizens voluntarily give up their votes to residents of the developing world, thereby turning May 6 into the world's first cross-border election.
In a nutshell, this is how it works: Britons register on www.giveyourvote.org to donate their votes to Afghans, Ghanaians or Bangladeshis - and participants in these countries tell them how to cast their ballot. Thousands both here and there, according to Egality, the group behind the campaign, have already signed up.
The idea, explained Shimri Zameret, is not so much to tip the result, but rather to highlight the limitations of local decision-making in an increasingly interconnected world. "What we are trying to show is that decisions made in Britain, in this case, don't stop at national borders - and that life in poorer nations is often dominated by decisions made elsewhere."
Egality chose Afghanistan, Ghana and Bangladesh as examples of developing countries "directly affected by U.K. policies on war, climate and poverty." Volunteers from the organization have been working for weeks, both in Britain and in those countries, to coordinate the effort.
First, overseas "voters" came up with questions to pose to British candidates on subjects pertaining to them. Egality volunteers collected the questions and passed them on to the British participants, who put them to their local parliamentary representatives in debates, town hall meetings or through the media, then sent back the responses, which were discussed on television and radio in each of the three countries.
The second stage happens today, when the foreign participants cast their votes, by cell phone. Depending on how many foreigners vote and how many Britons have signed up to be envoys for those votes, Egality will figure out the relative results. Based on this, on the eve of elections, each British participant will be instructed via text message on how to cast their ballot.
Is this legal? According to the Electoral Commission, yes. In a letter to the organizers, the commission said that as long as people were not being paid for votes, there was nothing wrong with the campaign.
Zameret came up with the idea for the project in an unlikely place - an Israeli prison. That is where he sat for two years, after refusing to do his mandatory military service.
"I gave a lot of thought to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the time, and came to see it as a symptom of the fact that there is no democracy to national borders," he explained. "People in Palestine are unable to participate in decisions made in Israel, but they are affected by them. Essentially, I believe in democracy, but I think it has to be shaken up."
Meanwhile, another young man, 30-year-old documentary filmmaker James Sadri, was having many of the same thoughts during his time in Damascus, where he was studying Arabic. There, he said, he found himself - together with a group of Iraqi refugees - watching as Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, debated his opponent John McCain on the war in Iraq.
"It seemed strange that this supposedly big democratic moment in the United States was missing such a vital component - the voice of the Iraqi people themselves," explained Sadri.
The two met on an online forum about global justice and began exchanging ideas. Soon afterward, Zameret and Sadri joined forces with half a dozen others to create Egality and begin the Give Your Vote campaign.
Zameret said he intends to bring the concept back to Israel for the next election, and already has some partners he is working with at home. "Doing this in Israel will confront people with the idea, and maybe make them understand, that decisions we make which influence people who cannot vote" is essentially undemocratic, he said.