Monday, Dec 22, 2014

Neglecting voting right is shameful

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The recent election in Pinellas County to replace the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young has become the subject of commentary for many national newspapers and political blogs.

Some saw it as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Others commented on how much money was spent, around $12 million, to fill a congressional term that will last less than a year. (Times have changed; former Gov. Jeb Bush needed $7.1 million in 1998 to win a whole state.) A few Republican pundits saw David Jolly's victory as the strategy needed to win in November.

The Jolly-Sink-Overby race drew a lot of attention from outside groups, but the most underreported story was how a lot of District 13 voters didn't feel the need to vote. In 2012, more than 300,000 people voted in the general election. Just 183,000 voted in this one, which to many is why Alex Sink lost. According to CNN, “The plain simple truth is that Sink lost because Democratic voters didn't vote.”

The question we should all be asking is, why not? It has now become acceptable that fewer people show up at the polls for local, special and nonpresidental elections, and that's just plain wrong.

“Special elections are not indicators of the future,” Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters after the election. “They never have been. They never will be. And this is not an indicator of the future.”

As far as I'm concerned, every election is special and should be treated as such.

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Voter apathy touches a nerve with me because I'm old enough to remember the brutal beating by Alabama state troopers of civil rights marchers who were attempting to peacefully march from Selma to the state Capitol in Montgomery in March 1965.

Before that there were countless others who sacrificed their bodies and lives for the right to vote. Because of their struggles, I've voted in every election in every city in which I've lived. I don't see casting a ballot as a right or privilege; I feel it is an obligation.

People active in the American suffragist and civil rights movements fought for decades to secure voting rights for the disenfranchised, but today, many of the beneficiaries seem to have forgotten their efforts. And it's ridiculous when political pundits call half of eligible voters showing up at the polls a “good turnout.”

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Baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra once explained declining attendance at Yankee Stadium this way: “If people don't want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?”

People not exercising their right to vote makes as much sense.

We hear a lot these days about Republican efforts to suppress Democratic votes, and some of the claims have merit. But it's easier than ever for Americans to register to vote, and some of those so-called roadblocks are easy to overcome. Don't have a valid ID card for your polling place? Then do what my 80-something mother, who no longer has a driver's license, does every election: send in an absentee ballot.

But when people don't believe voting is important, efforts at suppression are unnecessary.

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