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Front Page » November 5, 2002 » Opinion » be thankful for the right to vote
Published 4,185 days ago

be thankful for the right to vote


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter

Today is a day we should all be thankful for. Very thankful.

It is the day when we get the chance to participate in what less than 5 percent of the world's entire population throughout history has been able to do; vote for the kind of government we want to have.

By the time most people who take the Sun Advocate see this, it will be Tuesday evening and the polling places in Carbon County will either have closed or be very close to shutting down until the next election. You the reader have either voted or you haven't. If you are too young to vote or are not a citizen, your time will come if you wish it to.

But if you are a citizen and you didn't vote, shame on you.

Americans spend a lot of time talking about their rights. Those rights are set forth in the constitution of our nation, but not listed there are the responsibilities that comes with those rights. Citizens that fail to understand this are very much like the person who buys a new sports car on a payment plan, but never takes into account that he must pay for it. When you don't take care of business, you can lose that which you value. Rights have two sides. The benefit half and the responsibility half.

American's value the benefit part of their rights highly. For instance, they want the right to free speech. I personally deal with people almost every week that want to put something in the Sun Advocate that either criticizes some part of our government, some aspect of our society or to just make a point about that which they feel strongly. I sometimes have to explain that their right to think and voice what they want others to hear, is limited by the fact that the papers right to decide what we will and won't publish takes precedence. The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but not the freedom to have a forum for those ideas. Freedom of speech from a responsible newspapers point of view is not to print everything anyone might write, but to take into account community sensibilities, whether a letter is a personal attack on someone or if someone appears to want to use the paper not for the exchange of ideas but to discredit someone over a personal issue.

Americans want the right to practice their religion freely. Yet there are many in our country who seem to forget that one of the primary reasons their ancestors came to our nation was for that very purpose. By pure numbers of individuals who believe in religion, there is one group of worshipers that outnumber all others in our country. Yet we have a large percentage of citizens who are not of that persuasion; in fact some don't believe in a deity at all. That may make them wrong in the eyes of those who believe another way, but it doesn't make their right to a separation of church and state any less important. On the other hand, no one group should keep another from worshipping the way they want, when they want. It is a complicated situation, but one fact stands out. When we endeavor to alter the rights of one person, we affect the rights of everyone in that society.

Another right so many American's hold dearly is gun ownership. There are many in this country who believe that no private citizen should be able to own a gun of any kind. More numerous, however, are those who think that at least hand guns should be made illegal. Yet the right to bear arms is spelled out clearly in the second amendment to the constitution. There was a time in our nation that you couldn't walk in a home and not see "grandpa's shotgun" either prominently displayed or at least stashed near the door, even in big city homes. Sometimes these "displays" ended up being used for the wrong reason, by intention or accident, and that is one of the reasons things began to change and anti-gun activists gained the ammunition to go after gun ownership. Most gun owners I know are very careful with their firearms; they lock them up and have trigger locks. They recognize their responsibility of their right. Yet the pressure continues from some sectors to change the second amendment, regardless of the fact that most legal gun owners have taken the responsibility for their cherished right quite seriously.

With those three examples cited, lets talk about our right to vote. There was a time when to vote in this country you had to be white male who was a property owner. They didn't let women, minorities, renters or many others vote for anything, much less for congressional, senatorial or presidential candidates. Oh, and until the early 1970's you had to be 21 years old. Unfortunately, as times have changed and more and more people have become eligible to vote, proportionately fewer and fewer people have actually cast their ballots.

I remember the presidential election of 1972. 1 was a sophomore at the University of Utah and 20 years old. The year before the 26th amendment to the constitution had passed and been ratified by the states allowing 18 year olds to vote. I remember my friends and myself saw this as a new age. With the war in Vietnam raging, finally the guys who could be drafted to go fight could also have a say in their government. The turnout that year was huge, particularly by those under 30.

Today, according to the reports I have heard, the weakest segment of voters is those between 18-25, regardless of whether it is a general election or an "off year" poll like the one we are having today. I compare the fight that many of us waged for lowering the voting age to the womens rights movement of the same time. Today, many of those that have benefited from both movements have little regard for what it was like before those battles were fought and won.

I hear all kinds of excuses why people don't vote. I hear people say that it is the fact that politics have become so dirty. I hear them say that there are no choices, that all the candidates look and think alike. I hear people complain about big money and out of touch representatives. Others gripe about the corruption.

As I have read history over the years, the same things were uttered about elections during the time of Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, at the time of the Garfield assassination, during the roaring twenties and on and on. Sure things have changed, elections have changed and candidates have changed. But one thing is still certain.

The American people can control their own destiny by going into that voting booth, election after election. And when they don't someone else controls that future. Voting is the most basic right an American citizen has because the people elected, amendments approved or disapproved and the initiatives passed and not past are what affect our other rights, for the good and the bad.

That's why I say if you didn't vote, shame on you.


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