Janet Barthet, a 28-year old from Malta, has travelled to the United States to carry out voluntary work for the Hillary Clinton campaign. For the past two weeks Barthet has been canvassing in the Cuyahoga county to encourage people to vote early.
Many states across the U.S. have a system where citizens can vote early, or vote by absentee ballot, reducing the number of people that vote on voting day itself. This initiative works towards increasing voter ‘turn out’.
Back in 2008 and 2012, early voting allowed Barack Obama to gain an advantage against the Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Barthet has been active in Malta’s political scene for ten years, having worked with student political groups as well as on campaigns for local and general elections. She has recently been immersed in the U.S. presidential campaign, following the ins and outs of the events over the past year and a half.
“Given that the electoral process in the U.S. is such a long one, I’ve been following the campaigns for months, ever since the nominees were each still establishing themselves as candidates before the primary elections. Even before Hillary Clinton was confirmed as a nominee last July, I already knew I wanted to volunteer. Once she was nominated I started trying to figure out how to make this happen.”
Barthet has flown to the U.S. on her own dime, however the campaign team in Ohio provided her with accommodation organised by the Democratic Party who are happy to host volunteers. She’s been living and working with volunteers from all over the world: Japan, Munich, London, Manchester, Ireland.
“It’s been amazing. We are a really hard working team and everyone is so dedicated to making a difference.”
But her reason for being there goes beyond personal experience, Barthet believes there is a serious issue at hand and it’s not just America’s problem – it’s everyone’s.
“Over the last few years we have seen the rise of the extreme right all over the world. Whilst it has been considered a threat but possibly not taken seriously in a number of European countries, including Malta, the possibility of this happening in the U.S. is real.” Barthet says. “The race is close and it really is as tight as it could be. Saying ‘every vote counts’ is as true here as it is in Malta and any other election.”
“Over the last few years we have seen the rise of the extreme right all over the world. [It’s not being] taken seriously in a number of European countries, including Malta”
Unlike in Malta, where candidates knock on doors and either already have or are developing a relationship with their constituents, the U.S. campaigns rely heavily on their volunteers.
The voting population in the 2012 presidential elections was 235 million – there are only two main candidates, meaning it is literally impossible for them to knock on doors and know their constituents on a first name basis. Canvassers are vital ambassadors for the candidates, so this type of campaigning is a whole different ball game for Barthet:
“People’s expectations are entirely different and constituents actually welcome canvassers…sometimes. Of course there are people who don’t like the idea of strangers knocking on their doors and asking them to perform their civic duty and vote, but most are happy to see us and speak to us about their voting intentions.”
There are some things that ring true to campaigning work Barthet has done both in Europe and in the U.S.:
“”The issues that people deal with on the ground are more or less the same. People are concerned about job security, their children’s future, the stability of the economy and the increasing expenses.”
With polls showing Trump and Clinton more or less neck-and-neck over the past few days, Barthet is realistic about the threat of a Trump victory. She is hopeful that the polls will motivate Democrats who are not necessarily determined to vote to make an effort to do so. She’s hopeful that common sense will prevail.
“This goes beyond political alliance, fiscal and foreign policies. On morality issues alone, I would feel embarrassed to say I share any common beliefs with someone who could very well be a leader of one of the world’s super powers. America must send a very clear message that extremists, left or right, have no place in any democratic country. The rise of the right is a threat to democracy everywhere, America, Europe, Malta – everywhere. It needs to be stopped before it gains any governing authority at least in what we would consider developed and developing countries.”
“America must send a very clear message that extremists, left or right, have no place in any democratic country”
Barthet returns to Malta on the 13th November, and, of course, is hoping for a win for Clinton.
“If Hillary wins I would go home feeling proud that contributed to one of the most influential elections of our lifetime. Then exhaustion will kick in and I’ll sleep for a week.”