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Don't take democracy for granted

Editorial

June 10, 2006

Once again the polls opened, and once again the vast majority of voters elected to stay at home instead of exercising their right to cast a ballot.

This is one of the greatest paradoxes in America today ? that many people are happy to harp on about their rights and freedoms but are utterly apathetic about actually using those rights and freedoms.

What makes this even worse is that, at this very moment, American and coalition troops are fighting and dying in Iraq to bring democracy to that country while voters in the U.S. seem utterly uninterested in switching off "Desperate Housewives" to drive a few minutes down the road to vote.

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There are nations around the globe whose people are being jailed, censored, tortured and even killed for expressing opinions that at most would cause a lively argument in California, Idaho, New York or Florida. Those people must shake their heads in amazement at the level of disinterest demonstrated by American voters.

America has almost a surfeit of democracy. Every position at local and state level is open to election, giving Americans a chance to vote for offices that in many European democracies are filled by appointment.

Perhaps it's this level of voter involvement that hinders, rather than helps, the democratic process. Maybe some of the problem is voter fatigue; people are becoming tired of the continual cycle of elections. Or perhaps they believe their vote won't make a difference to the outcome. Or maybe it really is sheer apathy, as the voter turnout in Glendale and Burbank was only 17%. Is that really something to be proud of? Is 17% really impressive to anyone?

That number was likely only that high due to the heated 43rd Assembly District race ? and that's fine; whatever it takes to get people to the polls.

We heard poll inspector after poll inspector say Tuesday that low turnout was to be expected, because it was, after all, only a primary.

Well, that doesn't cut it as an excuse. Because come November when people complain about their choices at the ballot box, it will be too late to change those options. The course will have been set. There will be no getting the other candidates back.

Another common excuse is not being informed on the races or issues. Beyond the obvious fact that informing oneself is an obligation ? made easier by information sent to registered voters (not the campaign fliers, but the two-sided information) ? just go in and vote one race if that is all you feel qualified to do. That is OK. That is still using your democratic voice.

America likes to hold itself up as a beacon of freedom to other nations ? which indeed it is ? but it is time Americans stopped taking that freedom for granted. It's not too late.

See you at the polls in November.

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