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Business Casual: Back to the Voting Booth

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I heard a report from an NPR correspondent who ventured into a Midwestern bar to ask workers from a nearby healthcare facility how they saw the upcoming election. Nobody seemed especially enthusiastic. One woman said she wasn’t sure she would vote, but if she did it probably would not be for “that guy with the funny name.”

“You mean Barack Obama?” the reporter asked.

“Yeah, that one,” the woman said.

I remember thinking that her vote – if she actually cast one – would count as much as mine, and it didn’t seem fair.

It still doesn’t, but, honestly, I’m tired of people who don’t vote. I’m more impressed with people who take the trouble to take an informed stand. I am much less threatened by those who don’t vote the way I do than by those who don’t vote at all.

It’s disturbing that the 44 percent turnout for Georgia’s presidential primary in March, which drew 2,061,330 voters – 1,295,964 in the Republican primary, 765,366 in the Democratic primary – was a record. So where were the other 56 percent?

Of the 2.6 million eligible Georgians who failed to vote, no doubt there were some who forgot, some who were sick, some who had car trouble or family emergencies, but there had to be a lot who just didn’t bother. Maybe they didn’t like any of the candidates. Maybe they don’t feel they have a stake in the political process, or maybe they are contemptuous of the sideshow atmosphere that has candidates shouting and trading insults.

I get that this is an election year unlike any we have ever seen, that whatever we thought we knew about presidential politics is being upended and that conventional wisdom is proving to be both unconventional and unwise. I also get that people are frustrated, tired, mad and ready for a change, even if they cannot always articulate what that change ought to look like. Many are rejecting politics as usual, hoping outliers will save the day.

Some have glommed on to Donald Trump, finding him bold and refreshing. Personally, I’m not refreshed by bigotry, misogyny, bullying or cruelty, but the overarching discontent is not hard to understand. On the other ticket, Bernie Sanders, with a far different persona and message, has also tapped into that desire for change.

There’s another election coming up this month. In the general primary on Tuesday, May 24, Georgians will again have the opportunity to cast their votes, this time for their party’s candidates for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Georgia General Assembly, district attorneys throughout the state and some local offices.

If the fiery presidential race brought out less than half of Georgia’s registered voters, it’s hard to imagine that these state and local races will produce long lines at polling places.

And yet: These are the people who will represent us in Atlanta and Washington and who will make the wheels of government turn in our communities.

In some local elections, in districts that are heavily Republican or Democratic, this month’s election rather than the general one in November will actually decide the winner.

Don’t like the idea of campus carry? Love it? Want more mass transit, better roads, both? Have an opinion about MARTA expansion, casino gambling, teacher merit raises? The people up for election to the state legislature are the ones who make the decisions. Voters make the decisions about who gets elected.

At the national level, when it comes to oil pipelines, Supreme Court nominees or the military budget, it’s the elected representatives who say yes or no. Locally, elected office-holders make zoning and property tax decisions.

Complain all you want to, rail against laws that pass or don’t pass and the people who pass or don’t pass them – that’s a right of being a citizen in a democracy – but back those complaints up with a vote. Preferably, an educated vote.

People who don’t see a connection between the voting booth and the community they live in are missing out. Their alienation is costly.

A lot of folks have paid a pretty steep price for our right to enter a voting booth, make selections and leave with an “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker. It’s not something to take lightly.

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