Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Count Votes and Mark a Real Holiday

So, how did you celebrate? Did you fire up the old barbecue, whip up some potato salad, invite the in-laws and toss a few horseshoes around the backyard?

Did you light sparklers while you waited for the fireworks to start?

No, you're right, this isn't July. It's November. It's the day after the first Tuesday following the first Monday of the month. You know, the day after Election Day.

What? You don't host a big barbecue every year during the first week of November because you're still celebrating our independence on that antiquated Fourth of July?

You've got to be kidding me. You don't actually think that we'll keep our democracy alive by getting more excited about a day 231 years ago when a couple of powdered wig heads called for liberty instead of demanding it ourselves, do you?

In fact, Election Day ought to be the national holiday. After all, it's the day when we get to execute the sentiments of the Fourth of July 1776. That's all the Fourth of July is really about, you know ... sentiments. I mean the Revolutionary War had actually started 15 months earlier by the "rude bridge that arched the flood ... where once the embattled farmer stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world." And after more than a year of wrangling with the idea of independence, the Continental Congress decided once and for all to declare it. And they did so on the Fourth of July.

Freezing at Valley Forge, fighting at Ticonderoga, bleeding to death and succumbing to infection that all happened over the course of years ... and all so that you could vote.

Those founding fathers believed that we could self govern - you know, levy our own taxes, declare war, educate our kids, distribute healthcare, self govern like that.

Well actually they thought that white male landowners could govern. But we've come a long way since then. Heck, we even let women vote! Did you know that there are countries that still don't allow that? Kuwait, for example; and we fought a war to protect their sexist way of life. But we don't vote to protect our own - let's assume for the sake of argument - better way of life?

Why do we get a national holiday on the day when people in our past demanded liberty, but we have to steal moments on our lunch hour so that we can vote and preserve that liberty today?

I've got an idea. Let's give up the national holiday commemorating somebody else giving a damn about our rights and freedoms and swap it for the day when we actually control our own destiny. You know, we could either move Election Day to the Fourth of July or just make Election Day a national holiday.

Would having the day off make folks vote? Some think it would, but how about we add an incentive. Let's make voting a condition of celebrating. You know, when you go to buy the hot dogs and sparklers, you have to show a receipt from your polling place or the cashier puts them back.

And no public fireworks unless our voter turnout tops, oh, let's say, Tonga's. That Pacific island paradise has a voter turnout 25 percent higher than ours. And that ain't all. They've got universal health care, free education and, according to their 2006 tourist brochure, the highest per capita number of Ph.D.s in the world. Ah, self-government, you've got to love it. But not just in principle. You've got to love it in practice.

Oh, forget it. It's too late. Have you seen the voter statistics for our world? The cradle of democracy's (that's our nickname in some circles) participation rate is pathetic.

The United States, ranking 139th on the globe, has less than half the eligible voters actually voting. And I will wager that when the stats come out for Tuesday's off-year election, it will be even more disgraceful.

Want to know who has the highest turnout? With almost twice the percentage of voters we have: Italy. Italy has flexed its self-governing muscles, "thrown the bums out" and changed parliament about 70 times since the overthrow of Mussolini. How ironic that they kick our butts voting, considering we taught 'em how to do it.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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