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We need to make the Poles more accessible

diamonds in the rough

Happy Super Tuesday! Today North Carolinians head to the Poles to vote in primary elections, which makes this a topical time to discuss an issue I’ve experienced lately: namely, the American voting system. I’m afraid that the Poles, while certainly nice people with a rich culture and history, are too inaccessible for most voters.

As an enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporter, I have been excited to cast my vote for a Democratic Socialist candidate in the Democratic Presidential primary race for a few weeks now. When I boarded an overnight flight from RDU to Poland (with a connecting flight in Madrid, Spain), I figured I would quickly find the nearest Pole, grab a pierogi, and hop on the first flight back to the United States. As it turns out, it hasn’t been so easy—there’s only a few hours of Super Tuesday left here and I still can’t figure out how to vote.

So now I write to you from Kraków, Poland, a beautiful city in an Eastern European country with a fascinating history. Today, Kraków is vibrant, and the old city has a quaint charm with a basilica that towers above the grey cobblestone streets and local chachki vendors. Wawel Castle is a little ways out, but the courtyard is worth the trek and the interior now serves as one of the nation’s largest art museums. Walk around the neighborhood to find affordable eats including delicious Zapiekanka (bread with baked mushrooms and cheese on top—yum!), or head out further to see groups of synagogues in the Jewish district that attest to the Polish Jewish community’s long history in the city. Additional fun fact: did you know that Poland has the second best water in the world? All in all, I’d recommend a trip to Kraków to any traveler on a budget looking to find the splendor of pre-Soviet Eastern European architecture and engage more with this region of the world.

That being said, The Poles are not an effective voting method. Upon my arrival, I met plenty of Polish people and informed them that I intended to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Most did not understand my vote, so I let them know that I was voting for “Barnard Sanders, the Senator from Vermont” in case the nickname confused them. Judging by the fact that they walked away and rolled their eyes at me, I think that most of the election officials don’t speak English—which seriously makes voting a challenge for native English speakers. Is it just me, or is this the weirdest caucus ever?

Don’t get me wrong, the Polish people are quite nice! One English speaker was confused when I told them my Presidential preference, but they told me that I needed to head to a Pole-ing station. But where could I be Poled? According to Polish citizenship law, “any foreigner who has been living legally by means other than a permanent residence visa in Poland for a minimum of 10 years is eligible for Polish citizenship.” Unfortunately in my case, I have only been in the country as a traveler for less than 24 hours and am thus ineligible to be Poled. It’s almost like this system is designed to deny inexperienced voters the means to enact the political change they desire!

Supposedly there have been “early voting Poles” conveniently located on Duke’s campus for the past few weeks to mitigate the complications of voting for students and local North Carolinians. I imagine that these Poles will guide similarly weary voters to RDU to head to some Polish city for the adventure of their lifetime as they forget about their civic duty to participate in the American electoral process. And seriously, this trip has already been great. I’m making every moment count, hitting every tourist spot that I can, and I’ll be ready to upload a photo album to Facebook soon. And it’s worth mentioning again, the water is so good! But also, it shouldn’t be this difficult to vote.

Think about it: if I, a white, middle class man coming from a community that emphasizes civic engagement can be so easily confused by the voting process, I can only imagine how difficult navigating this system is for most voters. What about those who can not afford the $400 one-way flight to Poland, or those afraid of flying? Given that Pole-ing stations have long been a struggle for voters with disabilities, that poorer Americans and people of color are less likely to vote, and that Poland is facing increasing economic challenges that may threaten infrastructure, I’m seriously concerned that the whole system of American elections is fragile and not available to all.

We need to fight to make Poles accessible to all. We should reject voter identification laws, because some people may forget their ID’s before heading to Eastern Europe. The federal government should sponsor regular trips to Poland during election season so that everyone can vote and also try the world-ranked water. And lastly, someone should tell me how I can cast my ballot because I have class tomorrow and would like to return home.

Jordan Diamond is a Trinity junior. His column, “diamonds in the rough,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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