Failing democracy

May 21, 2002 12:00 am

Time for a little tough love.

Do you have a faded Old Glory sticker stuck to your bumper?

Go tear it off — the sticker, or your whole darn bumper for that matter — if you haven't voted.

Support the War on Terrorism? Hope Osama bin Laden is captured and brought to justice, or even dead?

That's a strange stand to take if you haven't voted, because you, too, are destroying America.

Voting isn't optional. This isn't some scratch-n-win nonsense at the local burger joint.

This isn't an enter to win a new car full of groceries sweepstakes.

This is the political system you were born into, and the one countless millions have died for.

Yes, democracy asks a lot of you: to attend public meetings, stand for office, pay attention and learn about the issues.

But at the very least, it asks you to return your ballot.

And if you haven't voted yet, congratulations! You're in the majority. And if the majority rules on voting by not voting, we might as well kiss 226 years of hard-won freedom goodbye.

You have until 8 p.m. to return your ballot to the Baker County Courthouse, 1995 Third Street, or one of three other drop-off locations.

Hopefully, you won't be in the minority.

Voter turnout in Baker County, Northeast Oregon and the state as a whole has been lackluster this spring.

You can try and cast blame — nasty campaign tactics, a lack of inspiring candidates, or closed Democratic and Republican primaries that might make the 20 to 30 percent of Oregonians registered with neither party feel marginalized.

But it is a simple exercise in political science, really. If you haven't voted, you haven't done your civic duty.

As of this morning, 3,881 voters — 38.4 percent of Baker County's 10,109 registered voters — had voted.

And sure, before Vote by Mail became the norm, voter turnout the morning of election day was a big zero.

But to make a decent 50 percent — sad that just half seems like a good turnout anymore — more than 1,200 voters must cast their ballots today.

Be one of those 1,200, please.

Or better yet: be one of those 6,228 people who have yet to return their ballot and will.

Vote what you know, and leave the others blank. Or run to the courthouse, find a voters pamphlet and cram for this exam.

Because in every school in America, 38.4 percent is a failing grade. So is 50 percent.

In fact, for Baker County to get even a "C" in democracy, another 3,200 voters need to cast their ballots.

President Bush recently challenged the president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, to hold a truly free and open election.

Unless you vote, that challenge sounds awfully hallow.

How can other nations take America's democratic proselytizing seriously if we don't take our own democracy seriously?