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JOHNSON: Everyone is permitted to vote, but it isn’t always beneficial - Odessa American: David A Johnson

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JOHNSON: Everyone is permitted to vote, but it isn’t always beneficial

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Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 4:21 am

By the time Nov. 4 comes and goes, the 2008 election may prove to be the most popular in American history. Even in Texas where the national races should be safely checked off for the Republicans, there's more excitement than usual.

I worry this isn't for the best.

All citizens have the right to vote, but some of us have a responsibility not to. Each of us should commit seriously to voting, but many of us have been taking our duty lightly.

Generally progressives benefit from high participation. Conservatives will say it's because they cheat, but historically the less barriers - of any sort - there are to getting into the voting booth, the more the Left turns out. That's why conservatives have pushed such measures as the poll tax, strict residency requirements and more recently have gone after the ACORN voter registration group, while liberals have supported no ID requirement, mail-in ballots and same-day registration.

So in practice, it could be said I'm supporting a conservative agenda, but in rationality, I'm an ivory tower, liberal elitist.

Those qualified to hold political office are few. So, too, those qualified to vote.

High participation is often taken as a sign of a healthy democracy. Nothing could be less true. The Gilded Age of the late 19th century managed turnouts above 90 percent; party identification and excitement were enormous. Yet government, at all levels, was probably more crooked then than at any time in our history. We elected weak, corrupt, forgettable leaders, and we deserved them.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, voting was more restricted than at any time in our history, and we managed to elect Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Not that things were perfect or voting should again be restricted to white, propertied males, but informed people making serious decisions isn't ever unwelcome.

This isn't an argument in favor of inaction but edification. Not step to aside, but to dive in.

Because we don't have a duty to vote. We have a duty to be informed, and failing this, it's our duty to not vote.

"If you don't have anything worthwhile to say, don't say anything at all."

An apathetic voter who casts ballot by a coin-flip isn't democracy; it's noise. So too an ignorant one. It profits nothing to vote straight ticket for people you know nothing of, for positions with responsibilities you know nothing about.

If we elected lizards purely based on the letter next to their names, we might not have the government we wanted, but we'd certainly have the one we deserved.

Politics are complicated, so brand names are valuable shortcuts, but they aren't enough. I prefer Coke to Pepsi, but I prefer a fresh Pepsi to a flat Coke, and I'd like to know the difference beforehand.

I occasionally flirt with the idea of a re-imposition of Jim Crow laws, but applied fairly. Or that instead of worrying about illegal immigrants voting in our elections, we just administer citizenship tests when a person applies for a driver's license. Better a Mexican national who knows the rights protected by the First Amendment than a domestic "Jaywalker."

But this is just my elitism.

The most effective bans are self-imposed ones, and only you can judge yourself.

An electorate is a body of qualified voters, and in the majority of races, I'm not part of the electorate according to the standard I'd like to hold others to.

My vote counts just as much as any other, but in most cases it's worthless. Where I failed my civic duty to learn, I try to redeem myself by staying silent. So too yourself.

Odessa, TX

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