Andrew Friedrich is a 25-year old music student at the University of Texas at Austin. He voted in 2008 for a third-party candidate, but this year he is choosing not to vote at all. He begins our interview by addressing me directly: “By doing this [interview], you’re giving me a political voice that’s probably more powerful than an individual vote anyway. I don’t think voting carries much political weight, it’s almost meaningless. But by interviewing me, on letting me express my opinion on why I won’t vote, you’re almost justifying me not voting in the first place.
“I really don’t feel pressure [to vote]. By not voting you’re making a political statement. If you just say you voted, that just means you probably voted for one of the two candidates. And to me that says that it doesn’t really mean a lot to me, because those people aren’t paying attention to politics and what’s going on. If people ask me if I voted or not and I say I didn’t, it gives me the opportunity to get on my soapbox for a minute and I’m happy to tell them why … I’m definitely not apathetic, I have very strong opinions towards some issues and I feel that the two mainstream party candidates basically neglect them … I don’t think any person’s vote is going to change the political process. If it makes you feel better about politics, then do it. I know people that vote to please the opposite sex or more seriously, that have voted because their family might not have status to vote and they’re making a statement that I’m an American and this is important to me. I can understand that people have all these different reasons to vote—I’ve just weighed my reasons and I don’t think I have a good one.”
Kristoffer Verdoner is a study abroad student at the University of Texas at Austin from Aarhus, Denmark. He is not a citizen of the United States, and so cannot vote. But he, like many foreign citizens, closely follows the American election. He has been living in Austin since mid-August, and will return to Denmark next June.
“In Denmark, everyone votes, almost. There are these big posters all around town, so you would see the faces of the candidates all over the city. So I thought it would be a lot more crazy over here. But of course I have received the e-mails, and there are all the Facebook clips of the U.S. candidates … If I had been home in Denmark [for the American election], I would be following the U.S. news daily, and it’s kind of cool being in the U.S. for all of that.
“I would vote for Barack Obama.. [Obama] likes education, he wants it to be cheaper. In Denmark we have free education, we pay 25 percent in taxes and in doing that we have free schools … and we have free hospitals. So we pay a lot of money in taxes but we have benefits out of it … I still pay taxes to Denmark while I am here because I still get the support.
“[The election] did affect us in that Bush went into all these wars, because … we have to spend a lot of money on military as well, and it goes towards those wars. At some point it does affect us. And the economy over here affects us, because we buy a lot of things from the U.S.”
Eva Church immigrated to the United States with her husband in 1948 at age 18. She quickly became a citizen, and has since voted for the Democratic Party in every presidential election. She is originally from County Mayo, Ireland.
“I feel that [Democrats] understand more of what goes on in the trenches than the Republicans do. They’re not as narrow-minded. I wouldn’t vote at all if I didn’t like what a Democrat was doing. They understand more of what’s going on, they provide more services. I vote for the one who understands what needs are, especially one who understands about low-income housing, low-income people, and the disabled and older people … I just vote because that’s the right thing to do.”
I ask Eva if any particular election has stood out for her. “I voted for Kennedy in 1960. I felt that he understood us. But it’s whoever understands the needs – that’s who I vote for. And so far that’s only been Democrats as far as I’m concerned. It’s about who is going to do something about the needs and fill in all the gaps.
“I voted by mail this time, and this particular vote was so complicated, it had so many aspects, that even Dana DeBeauvoir [election coordinator for Travis County] was talking about it—you know because of all the propositions. I was concerned about Proposition 1 [ballot measure on a medical school in Austin], so that we could provide the proper care for people. I did go through every candidate to see what their attitude was. We have to have people there who really understand what the needs are of the community and that don’t act like they’re not important.
“Follow your conscience about voting, and certainly read up about what each of the candidates do and have done. Then assess from there whether you want them to control anything. If they don’t believe what you believe, then don’t vote for them. It’s [the candidates’] responsibility to help those that most need help.”