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Did you know that in Australia voting is compulsory?  That's right.  It is against the law NOT to vote in Australia.  Those who don't show up at the polls on election day are asked to explain their absence, and if they can't give a satisfactory explanation, they can be fined.  Voter participation in Australia is typically above 90%. 

In many third world countries that are taking their first hesitant steps toward some form of democracy, people risk their lives to vote.  Violence against voters is actually quite common throughout the world.  And historically speaking, it has been common in the United States as well.  Election day violence occurred in northern machine cities (like New York, Chicago, and Boston) and southern rural areas alike.  For centuries, in all parts of the world, people have fought and died for the right to vote.

As many of you know, I have a doctorate in American history.  I don't think it's possible to study the history of our nation, particularly the founding years (not my specialty, but I loved the period just the same), without coming away with a profound appreciation for the genius of those who conceived our political system.  Was it flawed?  Of course -- these men were limited by the prejudices of their time.  But they managed to develop a system that was both strong enough to sustain representative democracy over the centuries and flexible enough to maintain its relevance even as the world changed in ways that none of them (with the possible exception of the brilliant Benjamin Franklin) could have foreseen.

What does any of this have to do with this week's BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award?  Isn't it obvious?  I could point out all the stupid, dishonest things done in the name of one candidate or the other over the past week, but really that was nothing new or striking to report.  Same fools doing the same foolish things. 

But as vile as some of the campaign tactics have been recently, the fact remains that we live in a nation that makes all of us the final arbiters of our own political fates.  There's the old joke -- "Everyone always complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it."  Well, people in the United States are constantly complaining about their government.  More than eighty per cent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track right now.  And yet even the most optimistic projections put this year's voter turnout at perhaps 70% of eligible voters.  Historically that would be a great number -- higher than any election in the past half century.  And yet, if the projections are correct, nearly a third of American voters will have chosen to stay home.  

So to all those voters who waste their right, their opportunity, their obligation to participate in this week's election, who through their apathy or laziness or ignorance take this precious gift for granted, this BOW award is for you.  I wish every person in the country would go out and vote for my candidate, but failing that, I just wish every person would go out and vote.  Yes, this all very cliched, and I apologize for that.  But as great as the promise of this nation might be, her chance of realizing that promise is dependent on all of us.  Democracy is more than a collection of rights.  It is, in fact, the nexus of rights and responsibilities.

So go out and vote.

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
madkestrel
Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
*leaps to her feet applauding*

About three weeks ago, I was chatting with some dance friends, and the subject of the election came up. Mary* waved her hand dismissively and said, "I never vote, because there's no one who can do the job properly." Before I could say a word, Mary's best friend Lisa* said, "I can't believe you! Women had to fight to get the right to vote in this country. They were imprisoned and beaten, all to ensure you would someday be able to express an opinion about how the country is run, and you're throwing their sacrifice right back in their faces." I was so proud of her!

*names changed to protect....well, me. :D
davidbcoe
Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comment, Misty. I hear the "They're all the same; it doesn't matter who wins" excuse all the time and I simply don't get it. That's not quite the same as what "Mary" was saying, but it's close. And I happen to think that both arguments are untrue.
(Deleted comment)
davidbcoe
Nov. 2nd, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Alis.
carolf
Nov. 2nd, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
[applause] [applause]

*sigh* It amazes me how many people focus on just the presidential race (as if that weren't important enough to get one to the polls) and completely ignore the rest -- right down to their own village elections. It's at the local level that politics really affects our lives in day-to-day way. Sheesh!

I've lived in a country without a vote. (Mind you, had there been a vote, I wouldn't have had one as an alien, but citizens had no vote, either.) I've studied other constitutions, written since the US constitution, and compared them. Our is far from perfect, as you say, but those that followed were all too often seriously flawed, even with ours as an example. One thing I've noticed is that democracy is a learned system. The longer one goes without it, the harder it is to keep it going. It takes constant practice. And too many us aren't.

If I could have one year with limitless power to design and enforce civil education in this country ...

Anyway -- I agree.

(Or, had you already guessed that?)
davidbcoe
Nov. 2nd, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comment, Carol. Where did you live?
carolf
Nov. 3rd, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)
Spain. 60's Franco.

Sometime, I'll get around to posting some of my "Madrid" stories. One of the more pertinent ones in this context is the one about the "protest" "riot" held outside the Italian Embassy, which was kitty-corner to our apartment building.
davidbcoe
Nov. 3rd, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
Never mind posting them -- write a book! Sounds fascinating.
bevhale
Nov. 2nd, 2008 07:03 pm (UTC)
We've just had more evidence of how vile some of the politics has gotten in OK. A letter was mailed out to many voters stating that democrats weren't to vote on Tuesday. Instead they would need to go vote on Wednesday.

Then people started sending out letters warning that one of our candidates was Gay. As if that has anything to do with the Corporation Commission, for bleep's sake. The guy has never said he wasn't gay and has done a good job. If people vote him out just because of being gay, I'm going to be very very ashamed of my state.

Between those events, and someone stealing the Obama sign from my yard (after knocking it over two or three times) I am not only going to vote, I'm going as early as possible. Will be waiting for the doors to open on Tuesday.

carolf
Nov. 3rd, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)
Dirty Politics
*sigh*

An example of just how ugly things have become, indeed. Also, not exactly inventive. It's been done, before.

I was driving to an appointment and saw a sign -- larger than the normal campaign sign, white with blue lettering -- on a corner as I turned. It read: Obama bin Ladin.

I was furious. I boiled all the way to my appointment, rehearsing how I would approach the property's owner to get that sign removed, without having my head removed.

I'm ashamed at how long it took for me to think that maybe -- just maybe -- I had misread a sign that actually read "Obama Biden."

Which, in fact, it did. I went back and checked.

The last 8 years have been very hard on my tolerance and general "hail fellow-well met" nature.
bevhale
Nov. 3rd, 2008 01:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Dirty Politics
I know how you feel. My life is not better after 8 years of Bush. I'm hoping for a change.

However, I'm a little worried at how devisive this campaign has gotten. I hope the country can pull back together.
davidbcoe
Nov. 3rd, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's dirty politics, but I have to say that if people don't understand at this point that theyre supposed to vote on Tuesday....

The idea of voting out a person simply because he's gay is utterly offensive, and if my yard sign was torn up I'd be ticked off. Yeah, go vote, Bev. If we win this thing that will be the sweetest revenge for such things.
bevhale
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Yep, I voted. It was easy, it was quick. There were a bunch of people over 80 waiting in line to vote and, while they are probably voting against my candidate, I'm proud of them for voting. Just hope everyone else gets out and votes today.
catsparx
Nov. 2nd, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
Actually, voting is not compulsory in Australia at all -- what is compulsory is that you turn up to a polling booth, get your name crossed off the list and take ballot papers into the private voting booth. If you want to leave them blank and vote for no one, that's up to you. History shows us that voter apathy favours conservative governments. People who don't vote shit me.
davidbcoe
Nov. 3rd, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
You're right, of course. I should have been more precise and said that showing up at the polling station is compulsory.

So how many people go through the hassle of getting to the polling place and then submit a blank ballot? I've always figured that one of the biggest obstacles to voting here was sheer laziness, and so I'd assume that most people, once they've bothered to get to an Aussie voting booth would go ahead and vote. Is the percentage of blank ballots in Oz anywhere near the percentage of no-shows in the U.S.?
catsparx
Nov. 4th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
Rob says:

From past experience it varies quite a lot, depending on how cynical -- or how determined -- the electorate is feeling. With Howard last time they were pretty determined to get rid of him.

You can check it out year-by-year here:

http://australianpolitics.com/elections/informal/
davidbcoe
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
Cool. Thanks for the link.
markwise
Nov. 3rd, 2008 07:24 am (UTC)
This is one BOW award I can agree with. I recently stood outside in line in 30 degree night air for almost 3 hours in order to Early Vote. While not being life-threatening it was something of a new experience. I thought of the years post when people would make the lamest excuses for not voting (I had to wait 30 min in line, it's raining, it's too cold) as I stood in that cold line for so long in the dark and laughed to myself. I wasn't laughing at the present but the past - our past selves. We were so foolish and so fickle. It was warming to know that so many people are thinking so much of this election to get out and vote even if it means being uncomfortable.

I don't know if I could support making voting required by law. I would rather see people vote for the good of he nation and not because they might get fined.
davidbcoe
Nov. 3rd, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
I don't think voting should be compulsory here, either. I was just making a point. But I do wish more people would inform themselves about the issues and candidates, get off their butts, and get to the polls.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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