We frequently read about countries in which people walk for days to get to a polling booth and then risk death by actually voting. We're awed by the courage it takes to vote under those conditions. Then we go back to our lattes and forget that in this country, we have basically thrown our voting privilege away by avoiding the voting booth in droves.
It sometimes seems the people who vote the least complain the most. Many justify not voting by saying no candidate pleases them completely. If they can't have a perfect candidate, then they just won't vote at all.
I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I voted for someone with whom I had complete and total agreement on every issue. In an imperfect world, we sometimes have to make do with what we have and put aside the dreams of the ideal for another day. Whether you completely agree with any given candidate or not is no excuse for not voting. In fact, common sense would dictate that you get involved in the process even earlier than the day you walk into the voting booth. Common sense would seem to dictate that if you are so unhappy with your choices, you'd work to promote a choice you can truly get behind.
Americans led the way in creating a democracy thousands of years after the last successful one disappeared. But democracy only works if Americans continue to be active participants in the process. So when I about hear the idea to tie voter registration to Alaska Permanent Fund dividend registration, I think that it's a great first step, sad though it may be we have to take it. Given the high rate of Alaskans registering for a dividend, this could automatically boost our voting rate significantly. And I actually think this idea should be taken a step further. I think the PFD should only go to those citizens who were eligible to vote and did in the last election.
Complete disclosure requires me to admit that I am usually happy when not many people vote because each person who sits out the exercise makes my vote count that much more. Quite frankly, for those of us who are counted as supervoters, the fewer people who vote, the stronger our voice in the outcome.
But getting back to the idea that democracy needs citizen participation to continue to function properly, maybe registering for your dividend should just be combined with voter registration. You can't sign up for a PFD unless you also fill out a voter registration application or can provide a voter ID number. While there is obviously no guarantee that all the newly registered voters will actually cast a ballot, at least we will have removed one of the more common excuses heard for not voting.
I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood where being American was still a brand new and amazing concept for many families. Participating in America's civic life was still considered a privilege and not one to be taken lightly. Voting without fear, voting privately so no one could exact revenge if you voted the wrong way, just being allowed to vote at all, all this was still considered very, very special. Voting was a privilege and participation was not questioned. It was expected.
I don't know when Americans started losing that sense of how special it is that we can vote for our leaders and not have them chosen for us by fiat or royal lineage. To most Americans, kings, queens, tyrants and autocrats seem a world away, not something that will ever touch us. But that's a false sense of security. If we don't nurture the lesson of civic responsibility in our children and ourselves, we may one day find ourselves wondering when elections stopped happening and permanent leaders were put in place.
If you have time to fill out a PFD form for yourself and every member of your household, then you have time to fill out a voter registration form. And if you have time to go to Costco to spend those dividend monies on the latest 99-inch TV, then you have time to step into a booth and make a mark on a piece of paper.
Use it or lose it. It's that simple.
Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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