ANOTHER VIEW Turn political apathy into voter activism on Election Day
Americans take pride in the concept and practice of democracy.
Or so we are taught in schools and told by the media.
However, one look at polling places throughout the nation, the state of Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, and an entirely different story is revealed.
These sanctuaries of democracy tell a story of political apathy, disinterest in the political process and a general suspicion, if not outright opposition, to the typical political candidate and elected official.
Last Tuesday I fulfilled, what some refer to as, my "civic duty"– I voted.
I've voted at my polling place in Bethlehem the past few years. Despite the time of day, the precinct was rather stagnate.
I recall traveling to the polling location with my grandfather as a child in Freemansburg in the 1980s. I vividly remember the long lines of citizens waiting to cast their vote at one of three voting machines.
Back in 2008, I voted at the same polling place in Freemansburg. Rather than three machines, there was only one. Rather than a long, anxious and excited line of voters, it was just me at the table, signing my name in the voter logbook, walking over to the machine to cast my vote.
I won't lie; it often upsets me when I hear American citizens who do not vote complain so descriptively about politics and our elected officials.
Reasons why they do not vote?
Many feel their vote will not and cannot make a difference. They feel elected officials at all levels are simply out of touch with the average American citizen, their needs and their struggles.
They also feel politics, rather than remaining the Jeffersonian ideal of true public service for all citizens, has become career focused, with a select few making decisions for the populace.
I generally agree with their concerns and reasons for not voting. Just look at the candidates, who they are and why they are running. It's usually the same slate of citizens circulating petitions for elected office who are elected and reelected by the same group of voters. These voters are called "super voters" and are courted heavily by the candidates.
It's also not unusual for a handful of candidates, who start off running at a local level, to climb the political ladder. The altruistic desire to serve the community slowly morphs into a career ambition.
Solutions to the problem are many.
First, the state of Pennsylvania should seriously look into and explore the very real possibility of term limits, not just in the state House and Senate, but also at the county, city, township and borough levels of government as well. The institution of term limits just might inject newer candidates into the political fold who introduce fresh, vibrant ideas.
Second, organizations like the League of Women Voters can and should hold more political forums where the candidates are presented to the public. These organizations should market such forums so the public knows about them and hold them at multiple locations and multiple times before Election Day.
Also, the individual political parties themselves can and should do a better job of drawing in new voters and solidifying current voters. One segment remaining untapped is younger voters.
Although young voters came out in droves to vote for President Barack Obama in 2008, their numbers have steadily declined since then.
The Lehigh Valley is home to a number of college campuses. Local political party leaders should be visiting these campuses to attract youth.
More importantly, our elected officials themselves should begin connecting in very real ways to the voters. While many profess their accessibility to their constituents, are they truly available and receptive to those who vote for them?
It's my belief most voters want their elected officials to not just represent their interests but represent who they are as people.
Finally, the simplest of all solutions: Simply vote. Take your disappointment and disinterest in the political process and the candidates and make your voice heard on Election Day.
It's indisputable politics is not pretty. While I tell people it should not be classified as a "game," in many ways it is.
Yes, it's physically and emotionally time consuming, but service to the community is never easy. And, it should not be easy.
American journalist and political commentator E.J. Dionne has said, "A nation that hates politics will not long survive as a democracy."
We should all take a small part in ensuring the preservation of American democracy.
For those registered voters out there who did not vote last Tuesday, I encourage you to vote in November's general election and I urge you to research those running.
And, for those not registered, seriously consider becoming registered. It may sound strange, but after I voted last Tuesday, I felt a sense of accomplishment; a sense I played a part, even if only a small one.
Perhaps I am naively hopeful, but I believe politics can return to where it once was. To a time when it was considered honorable, important and a valid part of our lives.
As voters, we can make that happen. But we have to make sure it begins at the polls on Election Day.