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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
World finds voice on US vote online
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

The refrain "What happens in America affects us all", is a common one coming from all four corners of the globe these days, especially with the US elections just days away.

Child holding up Kerry poster in Rome
Kerry gets a helping hand from a young supporter in Rome
As never before, foreigners are figuring out ways to make their views on the election known. And to a large extent, they are doing it by going online.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, non-Americans want to weigh in on the US elections like never before.

"All over the world, there is a need to have a say, or a wish to have a say, in this election," says London-based Swedish writer Henrik Delehag.

He and his writing partner, Ben Carey, decided to give non-Americans what they wanted, namely a chance to weigh in on who should be the next US president.

The two launched a website called www.globalvote2004.org where non-Americans can log in and cast their vote for US president.

The plan is to tabulate the votes, and release the results publicly 48 hours before the actual election.

Angry e-mails

Ben Carey says the internet makes it possible.

"The culture has changed because of the internet," says Mr Carey.

We spent a lot of time making the site look America-friendly, non-partisan and all that. But of course, we do get angry replies
Henrik Delehag, Global Vote 2004
"People now understand that getting together in these mass virtual actions can get through to the mass media and to everyone else as a result."

The site is proving a hit. Late last week, 10 votes per second were being logged.

"We're really getting votes from all over the place," says Mr Carey.

"We're getting votes from Armenia, from Venezuela. I'm getting phone calls from Macedonia. I mean, these are places even I have trouble putting on the map."

He says the idea is simply to make Americans aware of how the rest of the world sees the election.

His colleague, Henrik Delehag, admits that they have received some angry e-mails from US citizens who want foreigners to keep their opinions to themselves.

"It's a shame, because from the outset we said we do not want this to come across as something intrusive," says Mr Delehag.

"We spent a lot of time making the site look America-friendly, non-partisan and all that. But of course, we do get angry replies.

"It's up to every good American to consider whether this information is important to them or not."

Net debate

The mock vote idea is not the only way non-Americans can make their feelings known online.

Bush on the campaign trail
Foreigners want to weigh in on the campaign like never before
At the site theworldspeaks.net, web surfers can find five different online groups.

Some of those groups are located overseas, and some in the US.

Solana Larsen is the New York editor for Open Democracy, which is part of the theworldspeaks project.

She says that the site is non-partisan, and that supporters from all sides are weighing in.

American politics is in a sorry state
Steve, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

"We hear a lot of stuff about how the world is for Kerry, and it's true," says Ms Larsen.

"But there are also groups that are very active for Bush, and they want to voice their support for what he's doing."

The point, she says, is that non-Americans have a forum, a way to speak to Americans, be it through letters, e-mail or even video.

One part of project is www.talktous.org. Foreigners can upload their own 30-second video messages to America. Most of them do not mention President Bush or John Kerry at all.

Instead, the videos include a Chinese citizen discussing world trade, a Palestinian girl talking about US policy in the Middle East, and an HIV-positive boy from Uganda highlighting the plight of those with Aids in Africa.

"Most videos have people expressing their concern with the state of the world today, and the state of relations between America and the rest of the world," says Kajsa Klein, the European coordinator of talktous.org.

He cites one video message from a girl in Mexico, who refers to US officials of all stripes as bullies on the world playground.

"I mean, if you're their friend, you receive a lot of help," says the girl in the video.

"But at the same time, they can push you around, and they feel like they can do whatever they want. When there is trouble, they are the first to offer help, and I admire them for that. However, they are also the first to jump into a conflict that does not concern them."

Global ideas

Those involved with these online efforts admit that it is hard to gauge just how many Americans will be swayed by such messages.

Anti-Bush protestors in Jordan
Jordanians voice their feelings about Bush in a traditional protest
Solana Larsen of theworldspeaks.net says that is the nature of the internet.

"You kind of throw it out into the ether and hope it lands somewhere where it can make a difference," she says.

"I think a lot of people who reach these websites, are people who seek out that point of view.

"I'm only hoping that through forwards, through e-mails and links and articles that people will read these opinions and somehow nuance their view of what the world is, and what the world is thinking."

One Australian mock vote website puts it bluntly.

"Let's help the US figure out who their president should be," says the site. "Lord knows they spend a lot of time 'helping' other countries with theirs."

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production


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