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Midterm election shows our ambivalence toward right to vote

December 26, 2010|By ART CALLAHAM

Hello, Washington County. I'm Art Callaham, most recently executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, but as of Dec. 1, I am no longer affiliated with that organization. Therefore, what I say in this column is all me, not edited by any other organization, not paid for by any other organization, it's just me.

Over the course of the next few weeks (and maybe over a longer period if you, the readers, are spurred to good interchange with the newspaper), I plan to write columns about politics, history, business interests, economic development and many other issues or concerns that I believe are on the minds of Herald-Mail readers. I hope you will enjoy my prose and will respond with thoughtful letters of your own to either support or reject the ideas I put forth.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know who I am. I'm a lifelong registered Republican; an unabashed Constitutionalist; against abortion as a means of birth control; pro-Second Amendment; fiscal conservative; against expanded government; opposed to raising taxes; a "hawk" and full supporter of our military; against anything that is illegal, including immigration; pro-business; and in favor of economic growth. 

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In simple words, I'm a whole lot like many of you. I would be willing to bet that 90 percent of you agree with at least 50 percent of my disclosed characteristics above. In fact, I would bet that over a glass of sweet tea, 80 percent of you could come to some agreement with me on almost all of those characteristics.

Tim Rowland said it right a few years back when he stated that in America, 80 percent of us are in the middle, while 10 percent are on the right fringe and 10 percent are on the left fringe. Tim likes to heckle the fringe folks, while I will try to heckle those of you in the middle. I hope this is the beginning of a great relationship between you and me, but if not, I've had fun already, looking at myself in the mirror.

For this piece, I'd like to write about voting. Timely, don't you think? We just had a general election where 49 percent of you registered voters voted. I'm sure there is a lot of back patting going on because that was so much better than the 15 percent of registered voters who turned out for the most recent Hagerstown general election.

Well, I think both percentages are, at the very best, appalling. If Rowland is correct and like all of America, 80 percent of Washington County voters are in the middle with 10 percent on either fringe, and we all know that the fringe people are passionate and tend to vote. Then it looks like maybe only 29 percent of you middle-of-the-road folks turned out to vote in an election to elect the five people who will have the greatest governmental impact on you for the next four years — yes, your own Board of County Commissioners." "All politics is local," said Tip O'Neill, and if you believe that time-tested phrase, all government begins at the local level.

But wait, it gets even more appalling. If 29 percent (that is the 49 percent less the 10 percent on each fringe) of the 80 percent in the middle voted, that means that approximately 24 percent of those eligible "middlers" bothered to vote. If you do the same math for the city, you'll see that quite possibly no one in the middle bothered to vote -- and you think government in general is bad. How about when we put government in the hands of those on the fringe?

Oh, all of you mathematicians and statisticians can spend hours writing why my simple analysis is invalid, and you are probably correct at the micro level. However, at the macro level, even you, who feel guilty because you didn't vote, will agree that this past election -- and many previous elections -- were pretty poor showings. 

In Russia, in the first truly "free" election in the nation's history, well over 90 percent of those eligible to vote turned out and voted. After hundreds of years of oppression and never having a say in how they were to be governed, the Russian people learned firsthand the price of freedom — that price is paid with each and every vote. 

Freedom isn't free. The first step to losing freedom is ambivalence toward the right to vote. God help us (and I mean U.S.) if we continue to be ambivalent toward our greatest right -- the right to vote.

Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees

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