Remarks by Peter Vrooman at the 2016 Election Day Breakfast

Remarks by
Peter Vrooman,
Chargé d’Affaires a.i.,
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
at the Election Day Breakfast
Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa

(As prepared for delivery)

I’m jealous of Ambassador Mary Beth because she has an “I voted” sticker and I did vote, and Americans can vote when they’re overseas, and our embassy’s facilitated many here.  How many people here are Americans who voted?  Yeah, congratulations to all of you.
For those of you who have asked me whether I voted, I voted, but I can’t tell you who I voted for.  That’s a reality of federal government employees.  We are non-partisan.  The U.S. government doesn’t have a view on who wins or loses.  So we are supporters of the process.
In fact one of the things that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia who just passed away this year, he said in, it wasn’t an election remark but it was in a discourse that he made when I was in Israel.  He said one of the distinguishing aspects of U.S. democracy is that our officers, whether military or civilian, foreign officers, foreign service officers, we swear an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the U.S.  So even though we’re wearing flag pins, we don’t swear on the flag.  We don’t swear for a political party or a particular president, and that’s a distinguishing factor about American democracy.
I know since this is a tight election, in past years we were already congratulating the winners at this time in past elections, but elections can be close and this one, the news, if you turn behind you, it’s too early to call.  So we will keep our eyes peeled on the screens behind us.
But I wanted to signal a couple of things and bring a couple of facts to light.  You will have an opportunity to ask questions, not of me or Ambassador Mary Beth, but, or at least in private you can, but in terms of, we have an election expert who will be on DVC and be able to engage you on some of the questions and particularities about American democracy including the intricacies of the Electoral College.
But I wanted to make a couple of notes about how our constitution that I just mentioned has been amended over time to make America a more inclusive place.
In 1789, only six percent of the American population could vote.  Six percent.  And so women, African-Americans, people who weren’t landowners, couldn’t vote.  That’s changed.
The first woman to vote actually was in 1870, but that was in Wyoming and it wasn’t until 1920 that women — the 19th amendment to the constitution — were able to vote in U.S. elections.
African-Americans who were slaves were not allowed to vote and they were, with the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments after the Civil War and due to President Lincoln’s advocacy of a 13th Amendment — those of you who saw that film — African-Americans were able to vote.  But not really until 1965 with the Voter Rights Act which really made it clear that the 14th and 15th amendments had to be implemented and they hadn’t been for many years.
So our democracy, as President Obama is fond to recall, is an imperfect union and it seeks to get more inclusive.  So that’s a short history of our democracy.
I’m going to read one quote and then turn it over to Ambassador Mary Beth.  This is from President Obama, in his press conference earlier last month where he said one of the great things about America’s democracy is we have a vigorous, sometimes bitter political contest.  And when it’s done, historically, regardless of party, the person who loses the election congratulates the winner, reaffirms our democracy, and we move forward.  That’s how democracy survives.  Because we recognize that there’s something more important than any individual campaign, and that is making sure that the integrity and trust in our institutions sustains itself.  Because democracy, by definition, works by consent and not by force.
So thank you all for joining us in this election party celebrating the process of democracy.  And we hope that we will have an opportunity to answer your questions through the DVC.  I turn it over to Ambassador Mary Beth.