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The Year of Elections

2024 is the year of elections. Or, it's the year to test democracy. Or, it's the year democracy dies. Or.... you see where this goes, right? The first few weeks of this year were full of political prognostications about the year ahead.

According to most sources, close to 50% of everyone on the planet will have the opportunity to take part in an election for national or local leadership in 2024. While most in the US immediately think of the November 2024 presidential election when discussing the process, countries around the world take part in some version of electing leaders.

At first glance, that seems very exciting - so many democracies! However just because a country holds elections does not mean it is an actual democracy where the voters are directly, or indirectly, choosing representatives. According to Our World In Data, there are 58 electoral autocracies in the world today. That means that the elections are either not free, or not fair (or both) or that the election is merely a show with a pre-determined outcome.

Many democracies around the world are young, still in the early stages of figuring out how to make a system work. Democracy is hard, and early on there can be so many stumbles (see: US whiskey rebellion, US civil war, etc). On this bar chart, you'll see age brackets for democracies around the world. Approximately 65 of the democracies are younger than the US was when the Civil War broke out.

Several countries around the world will conduct elections that will have potential geopolitical consequences. The world watches the US political system, of course. But India, Pakistan, Mexico, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and South Africa will all hold elections (some more democratic than others) that will impact how the world works together, or does not.

Why does all this matter? I think it's important for students to be aware of not just how the US system works, but that other systems are also out there and functioning. I want them to see how hard some people in other countries work to make sure they get to vote. I want them to see that there is variability in democracy, and in voting, and in the lifecycle of a political ideology. And I want to emphasize as often as I can that democracy and the freedoms associated with the right to vote can't be taken for granted. We have to constantly work to make sure that our voices are heard, even when it is inconvenient to do so.

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