Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Voting counts more than ever

If American voters stick to past performance, they?ll show a disturbing complacency about their democracy that besieged citizens of Iraq will never, ever understand.

Free of fear, Americans can go to the polls on Nov. 2 to cast ballots for president, for members of Congress and state and local governments, while voters in Iraq face the daunting task next January of literally dodging terrorist firepower to vote for their new government.

Americans have shown a trend of dismaying indifference to the precious exercise of their vote to shape their federal and state governments and their policies.

In 2000, only 51.3 percent of the voting age population went to the polls. Since the 1932 national elections, a quadrennial average of 56.8 percent of voting-age Americans have cast ballots--the highest turnout of 62.8 percent in 1960 when John Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon, the lowest turnout of 49 percent in 1996 for the three-way race between Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Ross Perot.

Nothing admirable in those statistics. In troubled, embattled nations where insurrection and civil war reign, voters defy personal danger in droves to vote in far greater numbers than Americans who need not brave any obstacles to the ballot box.

This November?s election has profound implications for the two major presidential candidates and their parties as well as for the election system as a whole.

Any failure in the system such as occurred in 2000, or any sign of tampering with results, would be a disgrace the nation could never live down.

For President Bush and Republicans, votes for them will constitute an approval of their policies at home and abroad, especially the war in Iraq, its costs and its uncertain future.

For John Kerry and Democrats, a vote for them will not only be a protest against policies of the incumbent president, but a vote for a different direction.

In either case, the outcome will have a lasting impact on national life--the economy, culture, federal spending, and role of the military, America?s place in world affairs--for generations.

Registering to vote takes but minutes. Voting on Election Day takes minutes.

Registered voters can do additional duty for their country by checking with family, friends and workplace associates to make certain they?re registered and plan to vote Nov. 2.

So small investment of time to help preserve such a world-envied democracy and all its institutions.

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