By Gerald W.
For the Observer
Did you vote in the Aug. 15 and Sept. 24 special primary elections for our next U. S. Senator? Will you vote in the Dec.12 general election? Not many voters did. Why not? Does it matter?
In the August election, Lee County ranked 66th out of 67 Alabama counties in voter turnout. Statewide, voter turnout was only 17.6%, 14% in September. In Lee County, it was 11.5%, 9.4% in September. This means that over 80% of the registered voters in Alabama did not bother to participate in choosing the nominees for the state’s next U.S. Senator. The frontrunner for this important position acquired the most votes with a mere 4.6% of registered voters statewide and 2.8% of Lee County registered voters.
I do not want to write just another “get out the vote” letter beating the drum for democracy. However, something is seriously wrong with this picture. At a time in history when “we” citizens are cynical, angry and mistrustful of government, we do less than ever to make government responsible and accountable. That is the role and responsibility of the citizen. If we do not fulfill our role, democracy does not and cannot work.
Yes, voting matters. But, voting is a means to an end, not the end. Voting is one way in which we citizens exercise our responsibilities for the health and welfare of our civic life, for democracy. Active and engaged citizenship may include many things—being informed and discussing civic matters, posting a yard sign, wearing a lapel button or having a bumper sticker, contributing to or working in a campaign, and running for or volunteering for civic office. All are visible measures of civic participation, but the most visible and most important is voting. The level of voter turnout is the most visible measure of our civic participation. Based not just on the level of voter turnout in the special election, the decades long voting patterns are the same, our civic health is endangered—seriously endangered.
Citizens hold the highest office in a democracy–the Office of Citizen. Citizens elect, appoint or volunteer to fill all other positions. What happens in Washington, Montgomery or Lee County in our civic lives is up to citizen voters.
Some two years ago, the Lee County Spirit of Democracy (SOD) was created to help restore the values and spirit of democracy and the role of the Office of Citizen. If citizens can become aware of that office and assume both the benefits and responsibilities thereof, voting will follow.
On Oct. 28 SOD will host a “Campaign Kickoff” for the Office of Citizen at the Southside Center for the Arts, 9:45-11:30 a.m., 1103 Glenn St. in Opelika. Join us—the most powerful office in our democracy is yours.
Gerald W. Johnson
AU Emeritus Professor of Political Science
President Lee County Spirit of Democracy.