Registering Voters Delivers 'Civic Culture'
December 6, 2007
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The Brussels U.S. military community can boast of 20 newly registered voters, thanks to a Brussels Arts Center's voter registration event held last month.
Although, some people might ask what voting has to do with the arts.
Jen Bieser, the center's director, explained, "Actually, we're trying to encourage our community to think of us as the Brussels Arts and Culture Center ... as far as I'm concerned, voting is an important part of civic culture."
Bieser - who strongly believes that voting is an important part of citizenship duties - added: "I've been an expatriate U.S. citizen for several years, and I have experienced, first-hand, some of the difficulties inherent in absentee voting," she said.
With the arts center's gallery available and sensing a community need, Bieser mustered a few enthusiastic friends from her network to help make a difference.
Kevin Pragher, a U.S. citizen working on the NATO Headquarters international staff, volunteered, having recently arrived here along with being active in past voter registration drives.
Pragher has noticed, in the past few years, what he labels as a "revolution" in U.S. voter registration. "It used to be we had to have volumes of paper handbooks around. Registering a new voter could take up to an hour."
But all that has changed, he said. "A number of sites exist on the Web that have made use of technology, greatly simplifying the registration processes employed by different states. It's never been easier to register."
Eric Francois, a voter registration volunteer at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, concurs: "All we need is a space and a computer tied in to the Web."
Which is exactly what Bieser provided.
Already owning the needed space, she talked to colleagues at the garrison's Army Community Service. They agreed to loan the center two laptops, which were wired into the Internet. Afterwards, Bieser generated voting-related graphics, posters and decorating; received advertising help; rustled up knowledgeable volunteers to assist with the actual registration, and, as she noted, "it happened."
Barbara Morrison, a civilian member of the U.S. Military Representative's staff, was delighted with the convenience. "This is great! I'm really busy with my job at the NATO HQ, but this was a piece of cake. It really took no more than seven minutes to register."
Sarah Dunn, a spouse of a Brussels Soldier, was similarly pleased with the convenience, bringing her small children with her.
"We really tried hard to make the process as easy and as accessible to Brussels community members," said Bieser.
She is especially proud that at least two Brussels teens joined the ranks of registered voters.
Brussels American School senior Nick Bottesini, who recently turned 18, said: "I'm glad I was able to register. My mom brought me here after basketball practice, and it was really easy. I'm looking forward to participating in the next election."