Mandating a sacred civic duty

Mandating a sacred civic duty

Last month I took time to acknowledge the lowest common denominators all people living on this planet share, those being death and taxes.  Today in Cleveland, OH, President Obama promoted the idea of expanding those two of life’s certainties by one more, VOTING!  Coming on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the events leading to the Voting Rights Act, the President stated we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.  Mandatory voting is an idea after my own heart.  A few campaign seasons ago one of my favorite purveyors of American political commentary waxed philosophical during one of his on-air rants, “Not voting makes you derelict of duty in a republic.”  I subscribe to that sentiment.  I do so because along this most conservative stretch of Old Route 66 I have seen too many of my fellow Oklahomans lapse into a state of learned helplessness regarding their voting rights.  True, over 60% of registered Sooner State voters cast ballots in Presidential election years but off year elections and particularly primary and municipal elections are definitely ignored by too many on the voter rolls.  I vividly recall the current Tulsa mayor won his first election in 2009 with something on the order of 15.9% voter turnout.  During primary season of 2012 the current occupant of the Oklahoma 1st District Congressional seat defeated an entrenched incumbent on the strength of an approximately 12.1% voter participation.  We get the government we elect and refusing to vote plays into the hands of those who proclaim high voter turnout is detrimental to their election chances.  One Internet meme that circulated during this past election cycle articulated my feelings perfectly, “Refusing to vote is not revolution.  It is surrender.”

When I enlisted in the Navy at age 18, many of the senior enlisted people and mid-level officers in charge of my training and supervision had served in Vietnam.  I heard more than a couple of stories about American teenagers that were killed in action before they ever got to vote.  The specter of this ugly bit of history is ever present in the back of my mind whenever I am out knocking doors for a candidate or registering new voters at various community functions.  It is apparent to me that the younger-than-40 demographic has no idea about how the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18 empowered the youth vote when it was ratified in 1971.  I find it actually hurtful that so many minorities in that demographic seem to have absolutely no concept of how so many in the generation of their parents and grandparents struggled mightily facing down unreasonable literacy tests and even the fury of police brutality all for the basic American right to cast an election ballot.

As President Obama indicated, there are several nations around the World which have compulsory suffrage in federal elections.  Penalties for failing to vote range from fines to things much worse.  We could start by removing all obstructions to the voting process and expand early voting.  We could require compulsory voting for application to social services and business permits but all these ideas are negotiable.  I will say the idea of mandatory voting is one that heretofore has not been a popular one in my own party’s caucus.  So far every time I have suggested it I have had my sanity questioned.  I say democracy is a work in progress and one which works best when everyone capable participates in it.

The legislature of the State of Oregon has put on the fast track a new automatic voter registration bill with the goal of putting a ballot in the hand of every eligible Oregonian.  I am curious as to how it works out in Oregon.  If it expands the rolls I have high hopes we can get something similar in Oklahoma.  Like everything else we are so behind on, I will believe it when I see it.

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  1. Route66Kid
    Mar 20, 2015

    Tony, that was beautifully illustrated and superbly articulated. I have a difficult time grasping the concept that people like you and I are the old Vets now. The truth is that the vast majority of our respective cohort groups never served in the Armed Forces. I have often wondered if voting would mean as much me had I not been career Navy. I now truly believe voting is a sacred duty. If it is not just what were we serving to defend?

  2. Tony O'seland
    Mar 19, 2015

    I remember well turning 18 in 1972. Vietnam was raging, there were still pockets of revolution in the streets, and the Draft was alive and ravenous. For the first time in my life I decided to make my own decisions, and cut my high school classes to go downtown to the federal building to register for the draft, and to go across the hall to the voters registration office.

    This was the first year that 18-year olds were allowed to register and vote. While I might not have a choice in where I was going to be for the next couple of years, I could at least have a voice in the matter.

    It was a surreal experience in as much as the concept of offering up my body and life to the war machine, but now having the legal right to complain about it. The right to vote was, and still is, incredibly important to me and I felt the obligation, as an American citizen, to a least speak my piece through the ballot box.

    Little did I know that for the next four years the military would take away my right to vote. The rules for absentee ballots and military personnel were vague, and the military was apparently under no obligation to get your mail to you so you could vote. I had registered, offered up my life, and was repeatedly told that even with the right to vote, my opinion did not matter. Or, as one senior officer put it, I should shut the hell up because historically the military was denied the right to vote in order to prevent a coup.

    Voting is a sacred trust. Sacred NOT in a religious way, but sacrosanct in the way that respect, honor, and all these apparently outdated modes and morals are supposed to be. The very concept that an individual who claims American citizenship would be so lazy, so selfish, as to claim that “you’re not the boss of me, you can’t make me vote” is the pinnacle of insanity.

    Many of these non-voters rely on the different government agencies for their livelihood, welfare, and safety. These non-voters feel all this is “owed” them for some obscure reasons. And this is an across the board situation. It has no racial or economic boundaries. “Give me what I think I ‘deserve’ and get out of my face” is a current modification of that mentality.

    Believe me, non-voters, if only we could actually give you what you deserve.

    Much of this attitude I place directly in the laps of parents and education. We no longer offer actual Civics and Government courses in secondary education. We have gone with the Humanist concepts of “special snowflake” education where we aren’t allowed to make any student, anywhere, anytime, feel bad about themselves. So, we just cut it from the curriculum and leave it to the parents to teach at home, because this is what the parents, as taxpayers, want.

    However, like the ideas of Ethics and Morality (not religion), parents don’t want to be involved. They want to throw money at the situation so as to appease their children, but take no personal responsibility for the actions or lack of actions, by their dependents.

    If parents do not vote, the next generation will not vote. It’s pretty simple. There is no motivation to get involved aside from knee-jerk responses to sound bites.

    Voting is a right, but more importantly, it is an obligation. Making it mandatory is not an assault on anybodies supposed civil rights, it is simply a way of requiring that the populace be better informed and participate, for their own protection. A small fine would be sufficient, one would think, to get this point across.

    When did it become cool to stand up and scream “Murrika” and wrap yourself in a flag-like object while doing what you can keep America as low as possible in citizen awareness and participation? Singing the lyrics of a popular country western song about the pride of being American means NOTHING if you do not get up and DO IT.