Recent University of Cambridge grad Eleanor Surbey, shown here at Mudam, thinks the US could benefit from an overhaul in its voting system.
Photo: Eleanor Surbey
Recent University of Cambridge graduate Eleanor Surbey left the state of Florida when she was just one year old, but she was eager to get her ballot out for the 2020 elections. Delano caught up with the 22-year-old to hear what pressed her to vote.
Since leaving Florida, Eleanor has lived in Argentina, Slovakia and Russia before arriving in Luxembourg in 2010. It might be no surprise that she ended up majoring in modern and medieval languages--technically, “only the modern ones”--since English was her mother tongue and she had gone through the French school system.
She also speaks, to varying degrees Spanish and Russian, the latter having come in useful recently, as she is translating primary sources for an English author working on a non-fiction book on Soviet dissent. Eventually she wants to go into a field to back human rights.
Eleanor didn’t get a graduation ceremony this year, even though “they promised [a graduation ceremony] for next year”, and she’s looking into master’s programmes among other considerations. In 2018, she received her Luxembourg nationality, but she still feels as though she has one foot in the US. And she’s proud of having already sent in her ballot for her voice to be heard among US voters.
Discontent of a generation
“I did vote for Biden, but he wasn’t my first choice,” she admits. “I voted for Bernie [Sanders] in the primaries, which was kind of to be expected from a 22-year-old student living in Europe.”
She has noticed how some of her friends, however, did not think it was worth figuring out how to vote or submitting their own ballots. “People in my circles are a lot more not going to vote because they hate the whole thing,” she says. “I’m not the biggest Biden fan, but I’ll vote for him and push for change. I think a lot of people are disillusioned.” That’s in part because there’s a feeling of voting for the lesser of two evils, she adds.
While she agrees with her parents on a lot of issues, she also notices stark generational differences, adding that those in her age bracket “grew up with the idea that the US isn’t a great place, post-9/11… it’s weird to be this age. There’s a sense of general discontent, feels like almost every year there’s another economic depression, the last one was just 10 years ago.”
Could voting evolve?
Although her decision to vote was based on a variety of factors, including the way the pandemic has been handled in the US, its healthcare system, racial divisions (including those involving indigenous peoples), she said for her the main stakes in this election are voting rights. How that issue evolves, she says, will determine future elections.
“There’s a lot of voter suppression going on, a lot of gerrymandering, redrawing of lines. It disenfranchises people from voting. There’s also the whole ballot discourse, the closing of polling stations. A lot which makes it difficult in this election could make it more difficult [in future].”
She’d also like to see something other than the two-party system. “It’s not like in France where you can make a new political party and then win, it would be very hard for somebody more left-wing to do that,” she adds. “Democrats tend to push more centrist to appeal to both sides.”
She finds it simpler and the process more trust-worthy when it comes to voting in Luxembourg and suggests the US could even consider a ranked voting system, similar to what is done for the Australian national elections.
“But those are things so engrained in the fabric of the US… Americans see things like the Constitution like it’s written in stone, as if there aren’t amendments to it, and it makes structural change quite difficult.
“In other countries, people do make amendments, can have multiple party system or ways to vote.”
A US Elections Debate event, organised by Paperjam Club and Delano magazine, will take place on 21 October. Register for the event here.