Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Last Hurrah

Elections Are Won Or Lost Based On Voter Turnout;
It Remains For Us, As Civic Advocates, To Turn Out The Vote

“The only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest.”
-Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

In the waning days of Campaign 2005, the drone of the numbskull TV ads play out, the slick political glossies find their way into the trash (and from there, to those special garbage trucks dispatched to collect all that paper, courtesy of Nat Swergold and Sanitary District 1), and there remain only the placards and lawn signs (or so many as have not been shredded or removed by the goonies) and, oh yeah, the all-important vote itself.

The toughest task of all in any campaign – short of gaining victory – is getting the electorate out to vote. The armchair resident, embittered and frustrated, who, with a dissonance of “Why bother?” “Who cares?” and “What difference does it make anyway?,” stays home, scanning, perhaps, Wednesday’s papers for winners and losers.

“Why bother?” Well, for starters, because the government you elect – or let others elect for you – is the government you pay for. These are the folks who, on a daily basis, make the decisions that impact on everything from your local economy (including your wallet, which, to paraphrase News12, is about as local as local economy gets), to your children’s education.

“Who cares?” Clearly, if you don’t, someone else, whose interests may not be aligned with yours, will. The effect of local elections, perhaps more than the vote for President or Congress, is so intricately entwined with our daily lives that to ask “Who cares?” belies the frightening truth that if we don’t, said want of concern is at the peril of our homes, our communities, and, most assuredly, our money.

“What difference does it make?” Certainly, all the difference in the world. We could go on and on about the importance of a single vote. [Okay, we will. In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England; In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for -- the ax fell thanks to one vote; In 1714, one vote placed King George I on the throne of England and restored the monarchy; In 1800, the electoral college met in the respective states to cast their two votes for President. At that time, the U.S. Constitution provided the candidate receiving the most electoral votes would become President and the candidate receiving the second highest number of votes would become Vice President. When the results of the electoral college votes were opened by both houses of Congress, there was a tie vote for President between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. That threw the election of President into the House of Representatives where Thomas Jefferson was elected our third president by a one vote margin; In 1824, none of the four Presidential candidates received an electoral majority. The election was again thrown into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams defeated front runner Andrew Jackson by one vote to become the nation's 6th president. Andrew Jackson received the majority of the nation's popular vote; In 1845, Texas was admitted to the union as a state by one vote; In 1846, a one vote margin in the U.S. Senate approved President Polk's request for a Declaration of War against Mexico; In 1850, California was admitted to the union by a margin of one vote; In 1859, Oregon was admitted to the union by a margin of one vote; In 1867, The Alaska Purchase was ratified by just one vote paving the way for the eventual admission of America's largest state in 1958; In 1868, one vote in the U.S. Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment; In 1875, a one vote margin changed France from a monarchy to a republic; In 1876, no presidential contender received a majority of electoral votes so the determination of the country's president was again thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives. By a one vote margin, Rutherford B. Hayes became the new U.S. president; In 1889, by a one vote margin, Washington was admitted to statehood with the union; In 1890, by a one vote margin, Idaho became a state; In 1916, if presidential hopeful Charles E. Hughes had receive one additional vote in each of California's precincts, he would have defeated President Woodrow Wilson's re-election bid; On November 8, 1923, members of the then recently-formed revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote they chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the leader of the Nazi Party; In 1948, a Texas convention voted for Lyndon B. Johnson over ex-Governor Coke Stevens in a contested Senatorial election. Lyndon Johnson because U.S. Senator by a one vote margin; In 1948, if Thomas E. Dewey had gotten one vote more per precinct in Ohio and California, the presidential election would have been thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives where Dewey enjoyed more support than his rival -- incumbent Harry Truman. As it was, Dewey was expected to win the general election by a landslide so most Republicans stayed home. Only 51.5 percent of the electorate voted. Truman defeated Dewey; In the 1960 presidential election, an additional one vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas may have altered the course of America's modern history by denying John F. Kennedy the presidency and placing Richard Nixon in the White House eight years earlier; In 1962, the governors of Maine, Rhode Island, and North Dakota were all elected by a margin of one vote per precinct; In 1994, the U.S. House of Representatives enacted a law banning specific classes of assault weapons. The vote was initially tied but one member changed his vote to approve the ban; In 2000, the vote of one person, a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, gave the White House to George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote.] Aren’t you glad we didn’t go on?

Even with history as a guide, in a non-presidential election year, such as this, only about 35% of registered voters show up at the polls. And so, the few elect the many – a tyranny, of sorts, by a true minority – and we are, as Plato opined, obliged to be governed by our inferiors.

Ironic how, in newly-formed “democracies,” where there was heretofore no right to vote, voters flock to the polls in droves (fraud aside). In Chicago, voters rise from their graves to cast ballots. In the rest of America, we roll out of bed on Election Day, give a great yawn, then go about our daily grind with barely a passing thought of our obligation to community, to neighbor, to family, and, above all, to self.

Perhaps if Congress passed a law in which those who skip an election would be forever banned from voting. Even then, how many would rise to the occasion?

Of course, there is something that those of us who consider ourselves community “activists” can and should do. Send e-mails, make telephone calls, ring door bells, offer rides to the polling place, forward blogs. Make an attempt – albeit often in vain – to educate, to enlighten, and to instill that sense of civic duty. Heck, drag ‘em out to the polls by their ears if you have to. There is simply NO EXCUSE not to vote!

Civic Associations, as we all know, cannot endorse candidates. Of course, they spend quite a bit of time and no less verbiage praising the elected, which amounts to a tacit endorsement, doesn’t it? This aside, there is no prohibition regarding getting out the vote, and every civic organization and community group should – no, MUST – use their wherewithal to motivate both members and onlookers to cast their votes on Election Day. It is your right. It is your responsibility!

On Election Day, the campaign trail ends and the candidates, at long last, rest. The last hurrah belongs to the voters – or at least to so many of them who, in exercising the franchise, will determine who shall lead us, and to where.

As for The Community Alliance, rumors of our demise post-election are both premature and exaggerated. The Community Alliance and its core of advocates were here, fighting on the quality of life front, long before the 2005 campaign got under way, and will be around, in whatever incarnation providence (or its Co-Chairs :-) may dictate, long after this year’s victors have taken the oath of office. After all, campaigns come and go. Candidates wax and whither. Community, however, is forever. And the causes of community, at least for those who consider same their passion and their calling, are timeless. The campaign for the 2005 vote nears its end. The campaign to build a better community continues.

Tuesday, November 8th is Election Day. VOTE, and take a friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor or all of the aforementioned to the polls, so they, too, can VOTE! IT REALLY IS THAT IMPORTANT!

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