Voting is a basic responsibility

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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Presidential elections motivate Americans. Everybody wants to pick the president.

Unfortunately, that is the extent of election loyalty for many voters. Leadership at the state level — governors and legislators — is every bit as important to our daily lives as the free-for-all that consumes the nation’s attention every four years when electing a president. But voters are notoriously absent when governors are selected.

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Local election statistics should embarrass us. Last year, 76 percent of Isle of Wight’s voters went to the polls to make a choice for president, but three years before that, only 46 percent took the time to help elect a governor. And that’s almost exactly the same percentage that voted during the previous two gubernatorial elections, so you can’t say a particular election turned off voters.

Local election years are even more embarrassing. Some of the most vigorously contested local races in recent memory were waged in 2011 and 2015 for both constitutional offices and Board of Supervisor races. In those two critical local election years, 41 and 34 percent of Isle of Wight voters thought the races were worth their time to vote.

For centuries, Americans have fought and, tragically, many have died for the right to call this nation a democratic republic, and yet we take our role — our job — as citizens so very lightly. We have such a simplistic view of citizenship. Stand up for the National Anthem, repeat the Pledge of Allegiance and, voila, we’re loyal Americans — even patriots. But we can’t take the time to vote? That is blatantly hypocritical.

We also want to make sure that no non-citizens participate in our elections. That’s a politically acceptable position, but if we don’t use our right to vote, then it might well be argued that hard working, non-citizens who desperately want to fully participate in our democratic system have the moral high ground.

Look at it this way. If we don’t care enough to vote regularly, then we are disgracing our heritage and cheapening our citizenship. Defense of democracy begins not one some distant battlefield, but in our local voting precincts.

Working elections

The changes that computers have made in the world are nowhere more visible than in our election apparatus.

The first election I worked as a reporter was the 1965 gubernatorial race in which the late Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. was elected. I was one among a room full of phone operators hired by United press International in Richmond to take county and city returns from around the state. Many votes back then were still cast on paper ballots, then counted and recounted by long suffering poll workers.

As we received the returns, we passed them to other workers who tabulated them on calculators. Still other people compiled the results and, as the evening wore on, wrote election stories that were transmitted to papers through Virginia and beyond.

Today, computers have replaced calculators and pencil and paper are all but non-existent in the election system as well as elsewhere. Election results can be tallied and reported with speed unheard of a few decades ago.

What hasn’t changed is the dedication of election officials, both in Richmond and in localities, including Isle of Wight and Surry. They work to stay abreast of new technology and to ensure that we can depend on our votes going to the people we choose. There is not higher calling.