Read. Think. Vote. In that order.
That could be a worthwhile mantra for Georgia’s citizens as the May 20 primary draws nigh.
For it is eligible voters’ obligation — duty even — to journey to the polls in two weeks to make their choices known. This essential task of citizenship is profoundly important because a democracy is only as strong as its participants make it.
And, based on voter turnout, this part of civic participation has much room for improvement. Consider that, in 2012’s July primary election, roughly 1.65 million Georgia voters went to the polls. Then factor in the total pool of 5.22 million registered voters. That means just fewer than 1 in 3 eligible voters cast a ballot. During years without high-profile presidential elections, turnout can be even lower. National data from American University shows that 17.8 percent of voters performed that deed during the 2010 primary elections. That’s less than half the percentage seen during the 1930s.
Those who say voting does not matter should consider, if nothing else, the frequent, close races that force Georgia to hold expensive runoff elections to reach a final decision on who actually won what.
Obligation to state and country demands we do better, in our view. If we don’t, then it is unfair, and ultimately ineffective, for people to grumble about the government they receive by default when they haven’t done their part by voting their earnest conscience. That’s important to remember in today’s fractious, feuding times.
And in a related vein, simple enlightened self-interest should urge more people to the polls. Voting can effect change, as we all know. It also sends a powerful, hard-to-misinterpret message to our elected leaders as to where the mood of the people lies at a given point. Pols and bureaucrats alike need to hear and absorb such sentiments, especially during these days of political gridlock that has too often kept government from efficiently performing even the barest of required basics.
Yes, showing up at polling places in meaningful numbers is essential. Yet, it is not enough.
A high-functioning society also needs its citizens and voters to be well-informed on the matters before us. When that’s not the case, both governance and the general welfare of we the people suffer. It is true that knowledge is power.
At least it is when voters arrive at the polls with well-thought-through ideas and positions derived from due consideration and research.
Routinely doing that used to be in our DNA. It still makes sense because our collective success and future rides to a significant degree on how much we know about the choices facing our society.
Thinking things through and debating ideas and issues with friends, families and neighbors has a long tradition in this free country. So does exploring or testing other points of view. Examining opinions with which you disagree can help hone your bedrock beliefs. Or it might lead you to consider another point of view. The choice is yours, either way.
Which is not to say here that voters should lean this way or that. Far from it. Rather, we simply urge Georgians to spend the coming days conducting their own inquiry on the candidates and the issues they’re bandying about — or seeking to avoid even mentioning.
Read up on the candidates — beyond the glossy pieces that clutter your email or snail-mail inboxes. Consider the sources of the bewildering array of information — and misinformation — that abounds today. Who stands to gain or lose from the outcome? That can help guide thinking minds through all of the spin, verbal body blows and catchy slogans that may fuel heat, but not light. It can also help discern truth and facts amidst all of the innuendo, half-truths and outright falsehoods that assail our senses during election season.
Learn. Think. Act. Attend candidate debates. Review nonpartisan sources such as the online Georgia voters guide offered through a partnership of the League of Women Voters of Georgia and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Today’s column by Deputy Managing Editor Charles Gay elsewhere on these pages offers other sources for voting information.
Then make up your mind and vote your conscience. Your yea or nay, taken with that of others, will powerfully guide our town, state and nation into a hopefully better future.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
Every vote really does make a difference
By Elizabeth Poythress
There are three fundamental reasons why every vote matters.
The first, and most obvious, is that votes determine who governs. The emergence over the last decade of more “political bodies” that are smaller and with more tightly defined political agendas than traditional “political parties” suggests we are likely to see more third party candidates, more runoffs, and even smaller margins in the vote count. Every vote cast can potentially be “the vote” that determines the outcome. In other words, we seem to be moving into an electoral environment in which each vote will count even more than it has in the past in deciding who will exercise those “just powers” derived from the “consent of the governed,” as expressed in our Declaration of Independence.
Second, votes keep elected officials attuned to the political and philosophical sentiments of their electorate even after the voting is over. The certain knowledge that there will always be another vote means that politicians tend to make policy decisions in keeping with the broader values of their electorate. Cases in point include those so-called “third rail” issues, like Social Security, on which the public may never have voted directly, but where elected officials clearly understand the wishes of the voters. Votes significantly influence how officials govern even after the election.
Finally, and most importantly, voting gives voice to the most basic beliefs and desires of the people – about themselves, their families, their country, their community, and the proper roles and responsibilities of their government. When votes are cast in free, fair, and accessible elections, the people know that their voice is being heard, even if “their candidate” doesn’t win or “their issue” isn’t addressed as they might wish.
The importance of this to the peoples’ confidence in their government can hardly be overstated. Recently, in countries where the people had no voice at all, we have seen three longstanding dictatorships brought down, and a fourth dragged down into a protracted civil war. In the final analysis, voting gives voice to the people, preserves their confidence in our government, and assures the stability of our democracy.
A voter must get informed about the candidates and their positions on the issues. These are the people who will make decisions about taxes, education, public safety, and scores of other issues that affect all our daily lives. The League of Women Voters of Georgia with our partners The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News provides our online 2014 Voter Guide that is available at lwvga.org, ajc.com/voterguide and wsbtv.com. Other resources are newspapers, candidate forums/debates, radio talk shows and television.
Sample ballots, poll locations and hours are available at mvp.sos.state.ga.us. On this site, you can also request that an absentee ballot be sent to you.
Voter ID Requirements and other valuable voting tips can be found at on the League’s website: http://lwvga.org/electionday101.html .
Early voting is underway and will continue until May 16, including Saturday, May 10th. Election day is Tuesday, May 20.
The foundation of our democracy is every citizen’s right to vote. Your vote in every election helps assure that our democracy steadfastly remains — in the words of Abraham Lincoln — “of the People, by the People and for the People.”
Elizabeth Poythress is President, League of Women Voters of Georgia.
Take time to research candidates
By Lauri Strauss
The cornerstone of our republic is our election process. Elections matter, regardless of which side of the aisle one sits, and everyone should agree the best electorate is one that is informed about the issues to be decided and the candidates to take office.
Today’s political campaigns are waged in many arenas.
Candidates still use yard signs, pound the pavement and canvass neighborhoods to build name recognition and establish a base of supporters. Social media has elevated the game to a whole new level, allowing not just politicians, but the public at large to step into the fray.
Despite the move to digital, there may be no better way to truly understand candidates’ positions on the key issues and to evaluate their viability for public office than through a public debate.
For more than 20 years, the Atlanta Press Club has sponsored a debate series, today in honor of Charlie Loudermilk and Andrew Young. An open and honest forum is at the heart of the Press Club’s mission, and in 2014, the debate is as important as ever.
This primary season, the Atlanta Press Club will host a total of 9 debates for races at the state and national level. Once the primaries are decided, we’ll return with additional debates as we march toward the Nov. 4 general election.
Many of the races the Atlanta Press Club is featuring as part of this year’s debate series are already receiving national attention. But, these are races that can be impacted and decided at the local level.
The Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series gives voters the opportunity to educate themselves before they step into the voting booth. As an organization, we pride ourselves on bringing issues to be discussed to a public forum, and our debate series is no different.
Social media is fantastic, but don’t rely merely on the rhetoric, reposts or repackaged sound bites. Listen to the candidates for yourself, hear their statements and come to your own conclusion on who will best represent you – whether it’s in Atlanta or Washington. And please help us encourage the candidates to participate in the debates. Face-to-face debates provide some of the best opportunities for voters to learn about the candidates so they know who they want to support on Election Day.
We invite you to join us in person or online. Debates will be held at Georgia Public Broadcasting’s studio on 14th Street in Atlanta and will be broadcast live on public broadcasting affiliates statewide, streamed on gpb.org and archived on atlantapressclub.org.
For a full schedule of debates, visit www.atlantapressclub.org. To attend the debates or for more information, call (404) 577-7377 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauri Strauss is Executive Director, Atlanta Press Club.