Your Vote Counts--Make the Most of It

It's almost all over but the voting -- the unique way our democracy chooses its leaders and makes public policy to create a good society for our nation.

Yet this year we know we are not only deeply divided over what constitutes a good society and what kind of leaders and policies we want, we are mired in a brutal war and profoundly entangled with other nations over their leaders and policies. And pervading all our deliberations this year is fear -- fear of terrorism, threats and dangers both real and contrived that are being extensively advertised, exploited, nurtured or planted in the hope of swaying voters.

For the voting itself, there are two basic questions: Who's going to vote? Will their votes be counted fairly?

The second question is easiest, at least here in Portage County. Our Board of Elections has an outstanding record for clean, careful work, and is working overtime to deal with the challenges of this election. Also here and all over Ohio citizens' groups are working to help people get to the polls, understand the voting process and their rights, and to provide oversight and support for poll workers.

I suspect that charges that partisans are trying to suppress voting or tamper with tallying represent more intentions to scare first-time voters, discredit the opposition, or reinforce the "My-vote-doesn't-count" myth than plans to commit fraud. I think we can be reasonably confident that the vote-counting will be essentially honest, open and fair.

The question "Who's going to vote?" isn't hard, either: About 55 to 60 percent of those eligible, we think. We also know who they are: the economically wealthy, the affluent, and the comfortable; not the poor.

And that matters. In "The Good Society" John Kenneth Galbraith observes: "Because in the modern polity there are two groups that are unequal in power and influence, democracy has become an imperfect thing. On the one hand ... there are the favored, the affluent and the rich, [including] the corporate bureaucracy ... and on the other, the socially and economically deprived"

Over the last 10 years the lack of voting by the poor has driven anti-poor legislation, policies and attitudes, so that we have serious domestic problems with education, health care, Social Security, job security, liveable wages, hunger and homelessness. We have also seen the increase of myths blaming the poor for their plight.

Now, with both parties responding primarily to the dreams and desires of the wealthy, the affluent and the comfortable, what can independent, compassionate, reasonable, and fair-minded citizens do to support the poor and improve the quality of our democracy?

Vote -- from your generosity and concern for your fellow human beings, not from your fears of higher taxes or the undeserving poor. Vote for candidates who will raise the minimum wage, provide health insurance to more families, increase federal funding for local schools, lower college costs, protect jobs and help parents with child care.

On the global scale, vote for people and policies that will help limit the growth of the human population. By 2050 it is projected that there will be 9 billion people on earth. We can probably feed that many people, but the natural systems of our planet cannot cope with the waste, pollution, depletion and imbalances generated by such a population.

Vote for candidates who will encourage the use of existing cheap, simple, safe technologies for birth control rather than those who promote the development of costly, complex, lethal technologies for "life control" for wars against other nations?

Vote against any candidate who backs a global gag rule that limits the dissemination of contraceptives to poor families in other nations, or who would criminalize abortion while allowing the criminal killing of children in Darfur.

And here on the local level in Portage County, your vote can help another kind of poor people -- those who are poorly endowed with the mental resources needed to cope in our high-pressure, high-speed, high-tech, high-stakes society. Issue 62 is a modest levy for the Mentally Retarded/Developmentally Disabled of our community. Without it Happy Day School will close, and a precious resource for the least among us will be lost. In addition, if Issue 62 fails, the burden of educating MR/DD youngsters will fall on local school districts, and your property taxes may go up.

In democracy the responsibility for creating a good society falls on the electors. This election will be close, and the poor are unlikely to be well represented. Yet I am hopeful that millions of honest, thoughtful, compassionate, responsible citizens will go to the polls on November 2 and vote their concerns for the welfare of others and their hopes for a better world.

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