One of the best definitions of the United States is the one that says we're the least exclusive club in the world and the one with highest dues.
Alaskans pay some of those dues today when we go to the polls to in a primary election to decide on statewide ballot measures and winnow the field for state House and Senate races.
It's a precious right to pay them. And in any republic worth it's salt, it's an obligation.
Some argue that voting should be mandatory. Not in Alaska, brothers and sisters. Not in the rest of the nation either. The franchise is ours to exercise or squander as a free decision, not a coercive act linked to Permanent Fund dividends, eligibility for federal loans or penalties for not showing up.
The answer to our poor turnouts isn't coercion. The answer is enlightenment and a mature understanding of what we're doing when we go to the polls. Most of the time, we're making imperfect choices. Often the choices we have are not the choices we'd like to have, but that's the reality we face.
Democracy -- and that includes our representative democracy -- is a messy, frustrating business. And in the United States, compared to just about any other nation on earth, it's been a remarkable success for more than two centuries.
That success hasn't happened by itself. People have voted, with varying degrees of hope and enthusiasm, but they have voted and thus kept the wheels of state turning. Cynics say that makes little difference. History says otherwise. Jaded observers say that money buys elections. History backs them up -- but only to a point. That's because important decisions are still up to the voters, one woman, one man at a time, precinct by precinct.
Absentee and early voting has been going on throughout Alaska, and today the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you're not sure where to vote, you can contact the state Division of Elections at 522-8683 in Anchorage, toll free at 1-866-8683 or online at www.elections.alaska.gov.
There might be some confusion today -- redistricting has redrawn the map and rearranged the numbers. A little patience might be necessary. It's worth the time for the right to vote.