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Outside View: Resolve to be informed

The following editorial appeared in the (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian:

At the risk of being presumptuous, we’re guessing that you’ve already missed a workout at the gym or taken an extra bite of dessert. And that well-intentioned strategy to have salad for lunch every day? Well, that lasted until about noon on New Year’s Day, didn’t it?

Yes, New Year’s resolutions are difficult to keep. But allow us to add one more to the list, suggesting an item that will make you a better citizen and improve your community: Become more politically informed.

Admittedly, there is an ulterior motive behind this suggestion, and it stems from the fact that only 31 percent of registered voters in Clark County bothered to cast ballots in November’s election. That’s 31 percent of registered voters – not all citizens – and it means the county had the third-lowest turnout in Washington. It also means that about 84,000 residents were making decisions that impact all of Clark County’s roughly 460,000 residents.

We believe it’s better for democracy if more people are well-informed and are engaged in the political process. It often is surprising how many people have an opinion about taxes or government spending or elected officials, yet fewer and fewer of them are turning those opinions into action.

Of course, last year did not have the allure of 2016’s presidential election. Citizens are eager to weigh in on an election that includes races for president and high-profile state offices. But a quick comparison demonstrates a disturbing trend. In 1997, also an off-year election, more than 50 percent of registered Clark County voters took part; by 2009, the number had dropped to 44 percent; by last year, it was 31 percent.

All of which calls to mind a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” You might have read that before, because we have quoted it before. And it is increasingly relevant as American democracy moves closer to succumbing to indifference.

None of this seems particularly urgent. This year’s primary election is Aug. 7. The general election is three months later, on Nov. 6. Of note on the local ballot this year will be a race for congressional representative from Washington’s 3rd District, a seat held by Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, along with contests for legislative and county council positions. The people who hold these offices have a larger impact upon the daily lives of Clark County residents than Donald Trump or Barack Obama or anybody else who resides in the White House.

The hope is that the nation’s contentious political climate will lead to a more involved electorate. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, it should be clear to all citizens who want to make America great that our democracy is on an unsustainable path fueled by ignorance and apathy.

So, why not resolve to make a difference? Why not resolve to become informed and have a clear understanding of the issues, rather than blindly checking a “D” or an “R” come November? And why not start now? The Columbian and Columbian.com can help in that regard, as can numerous other outlets.

The key is to begin following the issues now and to be well-informed come election time. That’s even easier than avoiding an extra helping of pie.


 
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