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Now it's time to get out and vote

Over the last few months, you’ve probably read dozens of op-eds and articles and online blurbs about how Obama destroyed our freedom through that new healthcare bill, or about how Mitt Romney doesn’t have a soul and lies through his teeth. Ryan and Biden dominate the news cycle, and Jon Stewart’s team of political comedians are in comedy heaven every morning when they wake up to the news. America will be destroyed! Our economy will tank farther! We’ll lose everything we’ve fought so hard to gain! These are the cries heard from both sides of the aisle. According to the pundits, the end of the world is coming no matter what the result on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after the election.

With just the homestretch between us and the 2012 presidential election, Oregon (like so many states) is awash in advertisements, ballot measures and last minute get the vote out campaigns. The Citizens United supreme court decision has resulted in record corporate and individual donations to campaign fundraisers, and the cash flowing in seems to have no end.

With the caucaphony of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and hundreds of think tanks laying out the results of the elections before we’ve even had time to sit down and read our voters’ guides, it can seem as though this election is already decided — decided from things as small as Measure 80 here in Oregon (pot) all the way up the chain to the Senate, congressional and presidential races. If one vote won’t make a difference, many of us might think, why vote?

In 2008, according to the New York Times, just over 65 percent of eligible Americans took time out of their busy lives to huddle over a ballot, whether it was in a voting booth — or at their dining room table — and voted. Possibly (depending on who you ask) making that the best voter turnout in a century.

If 65 percent of voters cast a ballot, that means that 35 percent of the people we rely on to help participate in our democracy did not vote — 35 percent of Americans chose not to or had no opportunity to participate in one of the great American traditions — one of the things that makes (and keeps) America free. Three to four out of 10 adult citizens — a high enough percentage to tip the scale in even a “safe” election — did not vote.

Oregon has consistently ranked as one of the top voting states in the nation, ranking within the top three in both 2008 and 2010. With a mail-in ballot system, Oregonians can vote from home weeks before the election or the day of — we can read and re-read our ballots. We can take our time to vote or do it in a hurry. It’s as simple as dropping an envelope in the mail. And yet, still 15 percent or more of us do not vote. Two to three out of every 10 eligible Oregon voters let that envelope land in the recycling instead of the ballot box.

Perhaps there are bad addresses, lost ballots. But in some cases, we are not voting because we believe our vote won’t count. “Oregon will go blue, this ballot measure won’t pass, I know how popular this mayoral candidate is becoming.” Some of us don’t vote because we don’t think it matters.

Many of us, in Oregon and across the nation, are not voting because we have forgotten what a privelege and a responsiblity it is to cast that vote.

In 1787, the fledgeling United States of America granted its white, male, property-owning citizens the right to vote. On that day, the U.S. began a long path towards equality in representation. From nearly that first day of being, U.S. citizens denied the right were fighting to be able to vote. It would be almost 200 years before voting rights in America could almost be called “equal.”

From 1812 to 1971, Americans would abolish the barriers to voting. Property ownership, naturalized citizenship, race, gender and age (from 21 to 18), were pushed aside in favor of allowing all our citizens to have a say in our political process. In each of these conflicts, Americans fought tooth and nail, protesting, going to prison, suffering abuse at the hands of police, fellow citizens and the press. For them, the right to vote — and the right to vote for their fellow citizens — was in some cases more important than their safety or well being.

No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, or how hopeless you believe your cause to be, consider voting. Consider honoring the legacy of those who fought for you to vote, and then remember that part of what it means to have a “free democracy” is having a participatory one.

Consider playing your part — even if it seems inconsequential — in choosing Oregon’s, and our nation’s, future for the next few years.

So, whaddaya say? Should we bump Oregon up from No. 3 to No. 1 in voter turnout?

My vote says “yes.”

Callie Vandewiele is a freelance writer in the Portland area and a 2008 Pacific University graduate.



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