Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA
Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.
I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Ready for the election to be over

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for this election to be over. Even if I were a hermit, I think I would have gotten robo phone calls and unsolicited political mail and email this year.

These elections, especially the ones with national implications, seem to be getting worse each round. The rhetoric, promises and character assassinations get sharper and sharper. As much as I love democracy, I am more than ready for this nonsensical noisiness to end. All the nasty, negative political ads, especially the ones on TV, make you yearn for the days of the Veg-O-Matic commercials.

It didn’t used to be that way. Back in the days of smoke filled rooms and paper ballots politics were politics. Elections were elections. We weren’t blasted at every turn with extreme commentary of distorted and misapplied sound bites or publically aired criticisms that border on slander.

I remember when my father took me along when he voted in the gym of the elementary school where my brothers and sisters and I attended. It was a simple ordeal. Dad signed in, was given a paper ballot, walked to a vacant voting booth draped with red and white striped curtains, and marked his ballot. After doing so, he folded it and placed it in a box or can at the exit.

The precinct workers didn’t blink at allowing me to tag along with Dad. That wouldn’t happen today. They understood his desire to show me first hand how the process worked, how to properly exercise his citizen’s right and duty to vote. His modeling worked. I have voted in every election I could since I registered at age 21, the legal Ohio voting age then.

Mom and Dad by Bruce Stambaugh
My late parents, Marian and Richard Stambaugh, both modeled what it meant to be an active citizen.

My parents also did their civic duty by working as precinct workers. Dad was a precinct committeeman. My wife’s parents also served as poll workers.

Dad actively campaigned for particular people he wanted in office. I even volunteered to post campaign signs for him. In recent years, both my wife and I have served as poll workers. In fact, my wife will be a precinct judge in the Nov. 6 election here in the world’s largest Amish population. And yes, many of the Amish vote, even for president.

As a teenager, a metropolitan newspaper hired me each election to check particular precinct tallies, which were simply posted on the door of the polling place. Long before the computer and Internet age, hand-tabulated results were phoned in from a phone booth to gauge trends and declare winners and losers.

Today, things are so much different and sometimes difficult.

Concerted efforts have been made to insure that voters are who they say they are, despite little evidence of past voter deception or fraud. Fortunately in most cases, those attempts have been overturned by the courts. Professional political pollsters churn out poll after poll, week after week to tell the public what they are thinking. Politicians and their teams of advisors live or die with every revelation. News media lead with the poll results.

Kettle of vultures by Bruce Stambaugh
I couldn’t help thinking about the negative politics being conducted in the current presidential campaign when I recently saw this kettle of Black and Turkey Vultures circling overhead.

Being inundated with constant slanted political rancor has its ugly consequences. Heated discussions transpire on social media, and the “conversations” can get ugly and are not very social at all.

That said I realize there is no going back in time. Heaven forbid we return to those days of smoke filled room decision-making. Instead of paper ballots and canvas curtains, we now have programed cards and touch screen voting. But still we vote.

I am extremely thankful for the exemplary lessons my folks provided in what it means to be a citizen in this great country. Each of us simply needs to do our part in making this convoluted world a better place. To do that, we must keep moving forward.

I hope that means in part that the mailed partisan circulars will greatly decrease and the annoying phone calls will soon cease.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012