Be proud of state, nation: Register and vote

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997)

Cross-posted from the August 21, 2016 opinion column as published in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette

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Being a guest columnist, so far editor Sadie Fowler allows me to select my own topics. The rub comes when I must select a single topic and then energize my creative juices to produce the column.

I had settled on my next subject before Sunday morning when I read the T-G front page article about our state having the worst voter turnout at elections. Our registration of eligible voters isn’t much better. Thank you, John Carney, for selecting my topic.

The decisions our Founding Fathers made over 200 years ago regarding the form of government for our new nation were truly revolutionary in world history. (In Ancient Greece, democracy appeared in cities rather than in national government but was unable to survive.)

The New World’s population was heavily weighted by Europeans who fled or simply left countries where their religion was disallowed or compromised. The history of the world had been strong governments (kings, dictators, tribal chiefs, feudal lords…) and those who were not in the privileged classes lived according to the dictates of others. So it was more than religious rights that were taken from individuals.

The New World was governed by the British. They had the strongest military in the world, were an expansionist nation, had occupied our land and established their authority, and were heavily engaged in trade with America. Therefore, the typical citizen of the New World was again being ruled by strong authority. Despite experiencing many freedoms in the fledging nation that was large in area and not very far reaching by authority or government, most acceded to the rule of Britain. Even though many resisted certain policies from the British and the smell of independence started to flourish, many could not fathom being wholly independent from the British Kingdom and many of those opposed the Revolution. They were known as Loyalists and Tories and became enemies of the cause or just didn’t profess their beliefs.

So the Founding Fathers eventually came up with our form of government, a republic. Webster defines a republic as a country that is governed by elected representatives and by an elected leader (such as a president) rather than by a king or queen. When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we say, “which it stands.”

The United States of America, the wealthiest, the strongest, and the most free of all nations, is governed by elected officials at every level of government. And it works! It also works on School Boards, PTAs, the many hundreds of nongovernmental organizations. But most of us define the United States as a Democracy. Back to Webster: democracy is a form of government whereby people choose leaders by voting and in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights. So can we establish that our form of government is a Republic and that we live in a Democracy? Notice that the definition of republic does not include equal rights for all so it is important to identify our nation as a democracy.

Our vote is a privilege in that every legal citizen is able to register as a voter in any state in which they live, is able to vote according to a ballot or can write in a name or an issue not on the ballot, and their vote will be accounted for. Our vote is a right in that it cannot be taken away from us, that we are protected from actions where secret ballots are not announced to the public or similar shenanigans, that our vote is secret so that no one knows how we voted. Our vote is a responsibility in that, if we do not exercise our right to vote and many others do not either, we are not protecting our republic and our democracy.

Let’s get into protecting our form of government and our equal rights. The voters, you and me, in effect hire the elected officials to represent us, to protect us (military, police), to meet the needs of the country, to operate the government, to perform honestly and ethically. Every time an elected official is up for reelection, he or she is asking us to rehire them for another term. I realize that it doesn’t seem that way but it actually does work that way. Voters retain the right to vote candidates into office or out of office or to deny them entering office. Elected officials must remember to properly represent their constituents (you and me) and it is their responsibility to listen to us.

If you and I do not pay attention to what our elected officials at every level of government are doing in office, we are relinquishing our responsibility to govern ourselves. In Tennessee, and actually in every state, voters are not voting enough. Voter turnout should be close to 100 percent in every election or we are letting our way of life weaken. Elected officials in so many positions, especially in both houses of Congress, get reelected again and again and there is growing evidence that many of these “longtimers” are enriching themselves in office. Congress has a very low approval rating amongst the public. But what is the public doing about it?

Voter apathy is the worst enemy of freedom in a democracy. If the only people voting are supporting special interests or candidates who will tax and spend to give more and more to certain groups or even candidates involved in movements harmful to the state of our country, what good will come from that? We must be watchful of how our elected perform and behave. We must be curious and informed of candidates, vet their positions, evaluate their statements for honesty and for possibility (can they do what they say). We must know enough about each candidate to trust them before we give them our vote.

For starters, let’s get the Tennessee voter participation rate and voter registration rate way up! It’s our state and our country. Be proud, be responsible, be American!

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