Connections Groups

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Where are the Voters? Where is the Community Discussion?

Jurisdictions long have abandoned the plying of voter registration rolls for potential jurors.  More than likely, if you receive a jury notice, your name has been pulled from the rolls of drivers licenses - the identification card you proudly flashed when you were 21 years old, conveniently misplaced when you were 45 and, if you happened to have aged well, once again proudly flashed when you were 65.

And why would jurisdictions change their approach?  Because many citizens are under the misconception they can avoid jury duty simply by surrendering their right to vote.  So if your drivers license is your unavoidable path to a lost day in the juror waiting room, no reason exists for not registering to vote.  In many states registering can be done online.  And when considering absentee ballots, the exercise of your rights as a U.S. citizen can be done without ever leaving your home.

Then again registering to vote is one thing.  Exercising your right is quite another.

The issue is brought to attention because of what I’ve witnessed in a local election.  The election involved council seats and charter revisions - not unlike other races throughout the country.  These local elections are usually uneventful except our community has reached a crossroads.  Decisions will be made over the next few months regarding the character of our community.  The decisions we make today will cast a long shadow on tomorrow.

Who will be allowed to build what and where along roads that may remain the same or change in size and scope are questions unanswered.  Do we become a haven for multi-tenant housing, a harbor for professional offices or a mixed-use community hoping the citizens of neighboring cities flock to our retail outlets, raise the value of our land, increase contributions to our tax coffers so our own tax bills remain the same?

And the arguments are sound on both sides and quite muddled in the middle.  But who’s right and who’s wrong, what works best for our community today and what serves our community into the future is quite irrelevant to a greater concern.  The lack of participation by our citizens is cause for alarm.  Neighbors will stop me on the street, vent their frustration, yet many failed to participate in the discussion when given the opportunity or, worse yet, failed to vote in the election.

Our community has approximately 10,800 registered voters out of a population of more than 16,000.  Of the registered voters, 2,984 cast a ballot, or a little more than one quarter of those registered.  And as lengthy two-page ballots go, not all election participants cast a vote on all charter revisions or all council seats.  In some cases the decisions for our city were made by no more than 1,000 votes, or a little more than 6% of our citizens.  And we scream when we believe we aren’t fairly represented at town hall, in the legislature or in Congress.  We’re not fairly represented because we don’t make the effort.  We don’t do our bit.

Where were the citizens?  Where are the voters?  We’re granted a 12-hour window to travel to the precinct and cast our ballot.  We have absentee voting.  We have groups which will pick up the elderly and drive them to the precinct.  We have posters up and down the right-of-ways.  I received three or four flyers a week at my front door.  Candidates responded to my questions via email or called my house.  The city hosted public meetings.  Candidates were accessible.  Information was available.  Voting options were provided.  Yet, too few bothered to vote and even fewer are participating in the ongoing discussion.

As one who digs the U.S. Constitution - or the owner’s manual for citizens - I’m disappointed.  We sing about the sacrifices made by others to ensure our rights, yet many of us don’t exercise our rights.  We complain about the lack of information, yet information never before has been more plentiful.  We complain about the lack of choices among candidates, yet we rely on special interests - and your political party is a special interest - to dictate what we know and what we understand.

Our excuses are numerous.  Our effort is sad.  We scream about lack of representation, corruption in politics, do-nothing elected bodies, yet when election day rolls around, we cannot for a short time pull ourselves away from life to cast a ballot that very well could affect our way of life.

I will avoid the the overused “at no time in our history has it been so important” because every election - no matter how major or how local - for more than 230 years - is important.  I’m good with my candidate taking a loss or losing on an important issue.  I’m better when I win, but no matter what I respect the system and accept the results.

And only wish more people took the time to exercise their rights.  Looked at their own lives, at their own communities, and took them more seriously.

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