Lawrence citizens 40 years ago set a notable record and, in effect, registered a stiff challenge for all those who follow. This November, local voters have the chance to meet that test and exceed the 1964 mark. Certainly the current contentious political climate provides the incentive.
In the '64 presidential election, the Democratic ticket of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey scored a landslide victory over Republicans Barry Goldwater and William Miller. It was a classic liberal-conservative confrontation. Yet the national voter turnout was only 61.9 percent -- a fairly common figure.
Yet, in Kansas, public officials had arranged for a contest among cities for the highest voter participation. The city of Lawrence produced a landslide of its own with a turnout of 89.4 percent. The closest Kansas competitor proved to be Wichita, with 84 percent.
At the time, only voters in towns and cities needed to be registered. There was no countywide registration such as we have today, but the evidence was that county voters responded just about as well as those in the city of Lawrence.
Since 1964, local voter percentages generally have been closer to the 60-65 percent national presidential figure than the glittering 89.4 percent of 1964. Sadly, there have been many local election voter percentages of 25 to 30 percent, embarrassing at best for a community that prides itself on history, heritage and involvement in worthwhile efforts.
Few things, ultimately, are more worthwhile than exercising the right to vote. It is one of the easiest ways to take part in government and it is, in fact, the lifeblood of any governmental subdivision, or should be. Too bad it isn't always.
Consider the intense feelings in the Bush and Kerry presidential camps this year, and the fact that war, terrorism, the economy, health care and so many other vital issues are on the table to be dealt with by those chosen by the citizenry. It would be a fitting 40th anniversary for that 89.4 percent voter turnout if participation could be 90 percent or higher for registered voters in Lawrence and Douglas County.
Do your best to cast your ballots in November and set a record that people will be trying to break 40 years from now.