International students plan to cast votes for candidates back home
As college students around the U.S. register to vote, exchange and international students and faculty are also exploring ways to vote in their home countries despite being thousands of miles away.
More than 20 countries are scheduled to have presidential elections in 2012, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
There are more than 2,200 international and exchange students representing approximately 100 countries at OU, according to OU International Services. Many of those students are of voting age in their home countries and may be eligible to vote while studying in the U.S.
Voting while abroad
Voting is not so simple abroad, said Jim Antturi, an environmental economics exchange student from Finland. Registered voters have to go to a polling station, usually at an embassy or consulate, to vote in the Finnish presidential elections, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.
Antturi said he was unable to vote in the first round held in January and the second held Sunday because the nearest place to vote was Colorado. If the trip had been shorter and more cost effective he would have voted, he said.
“I didn’t want to spend $300 to buy a ticket to travel to Colorado,” Antturi said.
Despite being distanced from home, Daria Prokhorova, a Russian arts graduate student at OU, said voting is still important to international students like her.
“I’m planning to go to Texas to vote at the Russian Consulate, and I’ll try to get as many of my Russian friends to vote,” Prokhorova said.
Leila Hamaidi, a French exchange student studying international business, said considering the current social, economic and political state of France, she can’t think of not voting.
“I am a young voter, so I take my role very seriously because I feel it can be part of the big decisions,” Hamaidi said.
Russian chemistry graduate student Dalia Maraoulaite said she follows the U.S. elections more closely than the Russian ones but still wants to vote in the Russian presidential election.
“I’ve never been excited about elections in Russia,” Maraoulaite said. “I would vote only because I can’t complain if I don’t vote.”
Presidential Elections in 2012
Russia: March 4
First Round: April 22
Second Round: May 6
Egypt: April (tentative)
Mexico: July 1
U.S.: Nov. 6
South Korea: December
Source: International Foundation for Electoral Systems
Jiyoung Moon, a South Korean exchange student said although she isn’t interested in politics, she still wants to vote.
Moon can vote in the South Korean presidential elections in December if she returns to Korea, she said. South Korean students can go to a consulate or mail in an absentee ballot, according to the “Korea Herald.”
If she is still at OU in December, she might not take the trouble to travel to an embassy or mail in her vote, but she would vote if there were an online method, she said.
Following elections at home
Exchange students like Moon, who said she is less familiar with Western media, follow international election news through foreign news outlets.
Moon follows the Korean elections through Naver, a South Korean search portal, she said. The top searches listed on Naver usually involve a lot about upcoming elections.
Leila Hamaidi, a French exchange student studying intentional business, follows the French presidential election through French TV programs and online newspapers, she said.
However, home media sources are not always accurate because of government influence on them, said Katerina Tsetsura, strategic communication and public relations professor.
Tsetsura follows the presidential elections in Russia by communicating with friends in Russia, utilizing social networks and following various Russian and Western media.
There are very few independent media in Russia, and many of them have started to self-censor news, Tsetsura said.
Maraoulaite said although she gets her news from Western sources like National Public Radio, she contacts other Russians to get their prospective.
“I prefer to discuss it with Russian people or people in Russia like my mom,” Maraoulaite said.
Social networks like Facebook and YouTube provide interviews and commentary and provides people with an alternative, Maraoulaite said.
Insight into international politics
Elections in South Korea are not like elections in America, Moon said.
“Election is very big ceremony in Korea,” Moon said.
The day is a holiday, students don’t have to attend school and people don’t have to go to work, Moon said.
Unlike the U.S. there are a lot of political parties in South Korea, rather than just the two main U.S. parties, Moon said.
The election process is very different in South Korea, Moon said. It doesn’t have a long history of democratic elections like the, and there are still aspects of the elections that are flawed, Moon said.
“It’s not perfect,” Moon said. “I think every country is not perfect.”
In December 2011 and February, Russian citizens protested against the Russian election process and the corruption of the political system, which is a very important issue for them, Prokhorova said.
“The Russian political system is extremely corrupt; it needs some global change,” Prokhorova said. “The protests give us hope. The people do care.”
Russia cannot move toward democratic elections until it gets rid of the soviet mentality, Tsetsura said.
“Corruption is a cancer in Russia,” Tsetsura said.
Russia needs to shift its focus to domestic issues, Maraoulaite said. Russia is more about international politics while the United States tends to focus on domestic issues, she said.
“I don’t see [politicians] talking about the people a lot,” Maraoulaite said.
There is a chance the political demonstrations in December and February will bring about some change, Tsetsura said.
Governors are not elected but rather have been appointed for several years in Russia, Tsetsura said. After the December protests both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev talked about bringing back elections for governors, she said.
Tsetsura said she isn’t sure that the continuing protests will be able to stop the Soviet mentality that still lives in post-Soviet Russia. The upcoming presidential elections may not change much.
Prokhorova, Maraoulaite and Tsetsura said it’s highly likely the elections may result in Putin and Medvedev switching offices.
“But as a people we deserve a better government,” Prokhorova said.
Four days before the second round of the elections, Antturi said he would have voted for Sauli Niinisto, the candidate of Finland’s National Collation Party, because he was more qualified than the other candidate, Pekka Haavisto of the Green League Party.
“Defiantly Sauli Niinisto — he’s way more experienced,” Antturi said.
Niinisto won the presidency with over 62 percent of the votes on Sunday, according to Finland’s Ministry of Justice.
The presidential campaigns of all the candidates are confusing, Hamaidi said. The right and left parties continue to critique one another without proposing a valid objective, she said.
Current, Francois Hollande of the French Socialist Party has extended his lead by more than eight percentage points over incumbent president Nicholas Sarkozy, according to the French Institute of Public Opinion.
Hamaidi said she hopes candidates’ objectives will become more publicized.
“I hope it will help me and most of French citizens see quite clear,” Hamaidi said.
Hamaidi said she wants to know more about the individual campaigns launched by candidates before deciding for whom to vote.
Corrections: This story originally had OU professor Katerina Tsetsura's name misspelled.