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Don't allow another 'dismal' day at polls

September 10, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

The primary of 1998 was a sad day in Washington County election history. Though voters were riled up by the discovery that the Washington County Sanitary Commission had accumulated a massive debt, only 30.5 percent of the county's registered voters went to the polls.

That means that more than two out of three voters decided to sit that one out. No doubt some of them were waiting for the general election, where voter participation improved to 51.6 percent, with only 33,556 of the county's 65,027 registered voters casting ballots.

It was the worst turnout in 20 years, according to Washington County Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel, who used words like "dismal" and "terrible" to describe the percentage of participation.

Today, Washington County has a chance to do much better. Almost a year to the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, voters here can honor those who died on that day - and in every conflict since the Revolutionary War - by exercising the precious right to vote.

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Not voting is an insult to the veterans who gave years of service - and sometimes their lives - in defense of freedoms that too many take for granted. Stacked up against their sacrifices, the excuses we often hear - "One vote doesn't matter." or "They're all crooks, so why bother?" - are feeble indeed.

One vote does matter, because in recent years we've seen a number of contests turn on fewer than 500 votes. And as for the idea that all candidates are crooks, that's nonsense. Most elected officials work long hours for little pay on issues the public pays scant attention to, like the county's Comprehensive Plan.

Work on an update of that document has been going on for at least five years, in a long series of meetings with communities, town officials and farmers, without a great amount of public interest. Until, that is, development began to heat up this year.

That's why we go to the polls today, to elect people to pay attention when the rest of us can't, to read the budget books and make the hard decisions about what must be done to keep citizens safe and make the community prosper.

Most elected officials do plenty; today it's the average citizen's turn. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., so please go and vote.

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