By Oumar Ba
Alum of Ohio University’s African Studies Program, and currently doctoral candidate at University of Florida, Oumar Ba patiently waits for voting day, Tuesday November 8, when he will cast his vote and join other Americans to decide who occupies the White House for the next four years.
I voted for the first time in Senegal’s presidential elections of 2000. At the time, the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar, where I was a student, was a stronghold for the political opposition. And we were determined to send Abdou Diouf, who had been President for 19 years, packing. I’m still proud of having taken part in what had become Senegal’s first alternance, meaning the defeat of the ruling political party. Senegal experienced its second alternance when Abdoulaye Wade was defeated in 2012, but I was not around and did not vote – Senegalese citizens living in the US can vote in Senegal’s elections but the polling stations are located only in a few major cities.
In 2008, I was living among the Senegalese immigrant community in Columbus, Ohio when Obama was elected president. Obama’s victory was ours too, or at least we thought. Immigrants living in the US have many stakes in the elections. The main issue for us was whether the new administration would initiate a major immigration reform.
Next week, I will vote in the presidential elections in the US for the first time. I’m not sure why, but I do not like to “early vote” or to mail-in my ballot. So, I will patiently wait for the election day, as I did when I voted in 2014 in the midterm elections.
I am registered to vote in Florida, a battleground state wherein my vote in the presidential elections do actually matter. One of the oddities of the US electoral system is that, technically, not all votes count equally in the presidential elections. I guess I’m lucky that, as a Floridian, my vote actually matters. At the same time, as a registered independent, I had no say in the presidential primaries. That is a price I’m willing to pay for my “independence,” although it constrains me in so many ways, especially given that I have strong reservations for both the leading candidates.
This partially explains my cynicism about electoral processes. A couple of years ago, I was walking on campus at the University of Florida. I was passing the plaza where legions of mostly undergrads (either because they have so much free time or because they still have a lot faith in humanity) try to hand you flyers or make you sign some petition. That happened to be the day of student government elections. I’ve never voted for those elections and, to be honest, in all the three US universities where I have studied, I could never tell who the student body president was. In Senegal, we know the names of the student leaders because they lead the students into strikes. Whatever student governments do here did not warrant my attention enough to bother to vote for them.
So, anyways, as I was walking by the plaza, a student asked me whether I had voted for the student government elections. I replied that I didn’t. She asked why. I told her that “Democracy is overrated.” She didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure why I said that to her either, besides that maybe I just wanted to have fun.
I study and teach politics for a living. I tend to believe that (American) democracy is overrated. But as in any ritual, it may just make sense to participate, without asking too many questions. On November 8, I will cast my ballot early in the morning. Then, I will go to campus, and go on with my day.
Oumar Ba is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Florida, and a contributing editor at Africa is a Country. See his profile here
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Africa@OHIO or the African Studies Program of Ohio University.