Saturday, April 10, 2010

Civic duty? What's that?

I'm always a little amazed, and more than a little saddened, when I hear the turnouts for the smaller elections. I'm sure that most of you had no idea that we here in SE Wisconsin had an election this last Tuesday. Granted, most of the ballot was for local, mostly unopposed, races, but the ones that were contested were the ones that have the most day to day impact on people's lives.

Sure, the national ones are important and that governing often trickles down to the people, but when I hear people complain about education in this country and find out that they are the same people who don't go out and vote for the school board elections, I just have to shake my head. If you really want to affect things, the small, local elections are the best way to go. Even if you are new to the political process, it isn't too hard to find out about the candidates. Most of these smaller races are between real people, not career politicians. They also would love to hear from voters and have a chance to share their views. With just two phone calls, you can have a clear picture of the debate and should be able to make a good decision on who to vote for. Sadly though, this is largely not done.

This is why when I hear a story like that out of Pewaukee, where some polling places ran out of ballots, I smile. Yes it was an inconvenience. Yes I know they had a hotly contested mayoral race. Still, when you have a huge turnout for an off year spring election, I'm always elated. I really don't, despite what I may joke about, enjoy the fact that my vote counts for 10, 11, or even 12 other people.

I have made this point on several other occasions, but it still irks me. How is it we can have tens of millions of people who vote for American Idol, but a fraction of that who vote for local elections? Could it be that picking up a phone is easier than driving to a polling place? Surely we Americans haven't become that lazy. Could it be lack of awareness? This is probably more likely. Unless you are a listener to talk radio, you probably have no idea when the smaller elections are. There's plenty of blame to go around for that. Sure, they could do a better job of announcing them, but if more people were paying attention, the advertising wouldn't be as important.

Is there an answer? Probably not. If we made the voting process easier, there would be more fraud than there already is. There will always be a percentage of people who either don't care (they are all crooks and liers anyway) or are unable to get to the polls for whatever reason. Still, I can't understand why a majority of us can't be bothered to stand up for themselves by voting. Is it apathy or ignorance? More than likely both.

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