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Archive for Sunday, July 16, 2000

In this together

July 16, 2000

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Voting is a small act with a big impact. Those who act locally still need to participate in the larger political structures that support their way of life.

"We just want to get everybody to vote," said Don Cashatt. "We don't care who they vote for, as long as they vote."

Cashatt's comments came in connection with a candidates' forum sponsored by the Douglas County Property Owners Assn. Thursday night. Cashatt is president of that group, which is well-known for its anti-tax sentiments. Many members of the organization will, no doubt, be voting for candidates they perceive as being conservative stewards of public money. But Cashatt's statement expresses an admirable broader goal about getting people to vote.

But how do we do that?

The Journal-World usually runs several editorials during each campaign season urging people to register and vote. We prod people with pleas about how important voting is to the democratic process and stories of close races, in which even a few votes made a big difference. And yet, every year, local voter turnout is about the same, ranging somewhere between barely acceptable to downright embarrassing.

In his syndicated column this weekend, David Broder notes the special problem of attracting young voters to the polls. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when young people fought for and exercised their right to vote at the age of 18 instead of 21, voting was a right of passage. Impassioned young people marched in protest and actively supported candidates. They were part of the political process.

They were active in that process because they wanted to make big changes and they believed that was the way to do it. Today's young people no longer share that belief. They often see government as corrupt and poorly motivated. In many cases they choose to involve themselves in hands-on volunteer work because they can see the results and know they are accomplishing something.

It's a different approach. Their volunteer efforts should be applauded, but we shouldn't give up on drawing these younger people into the bigger picture of the political process. A consultant cited in Broder's column urged candidates to refine their messages, tell young people in clear language how political decisions affect the grassroots efforts many of them support. Make them confident voters by outlining specific, focused stands on important issues. Such clear communication by candidates would benefit all voters, not just younger ones. Young voters aren't the only ones who lose faith in the ability to intelligently exercise their right to vote because they don't know enough about issues or where candidates stand.

Programs like Kids Voting help because they make voting less mysterious and stress the importance of getting involved. Groups that hold forums and explain candidates' stands also can help. Simply the act of voting and sharing the importance of that act with family and friends will have an impact.

It was former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill who advised, "All politics is local." That's why people who are interested in local issues and local people also need to care about the political framework that surrounds and supports them.

As we conceded above, this editorial probably will have little impact on the number of local voters going to the polls for either the upcoming primary or general elections. But, as a society, we all need to apply a little peer pressure to get people to exercise their rights as citizens to have a voice in choosing the people who make the big and small decisions that affect their lives every day.

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