26 January 2012

Overseas Voting

"There are 285 days left before this year's elections in the USA!" "Be an active overseas voter!" "Request your absentee ballots here!" "Take note, new absentee voting laws in effect for the 2012 elections!" The e-mails have been arriving fast and furious, from the American Consulate in Rio, the Overseas Vote Foundation, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, from Democrats Abroad, from any organization, both partisan and non-partisan, that has our addresses. The e-mails come with long, detailed, state-by-state instructions on how to request our absentee ballots, where to send them, what to do if you don't get them and what to do if you do get them.

Not that I need all of this prodding. My parents instilled in me the idea of voting as sacred. And nothing was more satisfying than that "whoosh" of the curtain closing behind you when you stepped into the voting booth. I have been voting for 42 years, counting from my maiden voyage in the 1969 New York City mayoral elections (John Lindsay against — well, the other guy) and I'm not about to stop now. So we've duly registered to receive our absentee ballots for the upcoming presidential election — the only one we're eligible to vote in — when they become available. We will add our votes to those of New York State, which is where we last resided, even knowing that our votes will only be counted should the state tally be close. But even as I exercise my right as a US citizen, I can't help but hear former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill remind us that "all politics is local."

No question but that people tend to care most passionately about the everyday issues right in front of them, and I wish — I really wish — that I could vote here in Búzios. Mark and I pay our municipal taxes each year only to watch them be mismanaged by the city government. Private enterprise is doing a terrific job improving the quality of our lives, but the so-called authorities? They can't seem to do the simplest of tasks, even with the healthy financial boost the city coffers get from offshore oil production royalties. Construction projects promised during campaigns are started but never finished, and are left to deteriorate into ghostly ruins all over town. Roads are not maintained and they, too, are left to deteriorate into dangerous obstacle courses. And how many public employees does it take to change a streetlight bulb in Búzios? They can't manage even that, which is mind-boggling given that the city collects a "public illumination" fee from everyone's monthly electric bill. There's a nice chunk of money lining someone's pocket. Every week the streets just get darker and darker. And don't get me started on garbage collection. One million reais a month — a month! — and the streets are never clean.



The mayors of Búzios — aka the "-inhos," an affectionate diminutive meaning "little" — have been playing musical chairs with our city hall ever since Búzios was emancipated from neighboring Cabo Frio. There's a certain Mirinho, who presided over the city for eight years, then one Toninho, who took the next four, and now we're once again at the mercy of Mirinho, who's in the first four of what he hopes will be another eight years in power. In addition to the eager and hopeful Toninho hovering in the wings, there are also two other candidates planning a run this year, a Chiquinho and an Otavinho. (After all, they have the qualifying diminutive.) Unfortunately, being successfully elected in Búzios is not seen as a mandate to do good for the city. It is seen merely as guaranteed employment for family, in-laws, cousins, friends, and anyone else who voted for you on the promise of a job. It's sleazy patronage at its most obvious. Too bad I can neither beat them nor join them because if I could, I'd vote early, and often.

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