I drove to the polling station in Athens with a strong sense of irony. I am a longstanding advocate of the right of the Greeks abroad to vote in the Greek elections in their country of residence. Living in the United States I had been unable to travel back to Greece in order to vote for most of the national elections that took place there over the past three decades. This time around for the first time ever I would have been able to do so, but as it happened, I was in Athens. Thus I missed the historic occasion of being able to cast my vote at the Consulate General in New York.
It was a much shorter drive from the northern Athens suburb of Kifisia to central Athens where I am registered to vote rather than having to drive from Philadelphia to New York. Hopefully Greece’s political establishment will make it easier to vote in the United States, not only by doing away with the restrictive eligibility rules. They should increase the geographical spread of polling stations or allow electronic voting. This time round there were polling stations at the Embassy in Washington, DC and at the cities where Greek Consulate offices exist, thus one could vote in only nine cities across the entire United States.
No complaints, however, about having to vote in Greece – it was an opportunity to compare election days in Greece and the United States. My polling station in Greece was in a public school, a junior high school in the Rouf district which on the western side of the city’s center. It was named after a Bavarian who came to Greece in the 1830s as part of King Othon’s entourage and built a farm in that area. Later on it became part of the city’s industrial zone and currently it is a mix of middle and low income housing and warehouses.
Voting takes place in Greece on a Sunday, quite sensibly, so the traffic was moderate, and because I went in the afternoon there were fewer people, and it was easier to find somewhere to park. Like most public buildings in Athens there are no provisions for parking spaces on the premises. Outside the school there were no yard signs with candidates’ names nor were any persons offering me ballots. Any type of campaigning on election day in Greece is strictly prohibited. The school’s imposing modern building felt cavernously big as I entered in search of the classroom in which I was supposed to vote. There was none of the earnest ushering I am used to in the United States, where I vote at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a quaint stone building with cedar roofing, designed in 1886 by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness. There was very little signage, and the single election worker at the entrance must have had a long day already because he was slumped in his chair and looked at me impassively.
Somehow, I figured out I should go up the broad staircase and indeed, after going up a floor and after looking around a little bit I spotted a handwritten sign taped to the wall directing me to the classrooms being used as voting centers.
I found the right classroom and handed the polling official my identity card. She found my name in a thick book, she took a ruler and drew a line through it, and wordlessly signaled I should proceed. Luckily, I knew what to do, and I went to the second table in the room which had stacked paper ballots of the 35 political parties and a single candidate who were running in the elections. I picked up the one of the party I was voting for, went into one of the polling booths, used a pen to indicate which four persons on the party’s slate I favored, carefully folded the ballot, sealed the envelope and came out behind the screen. I dropped it in the plexiglass ballot box after a polling official moved the cover away from the slotm, and I was done.
There are no voting machines in Greece, but the process is streamlined and efficient. Also, they do not give you a little sticker that says you voted and which you can proudly place on your lapel. Perhaps they should, because voter turnout in these Greek elections was 61% compared to 66% in the U.S. presidential elections in 2020.