Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Election Etiquette

I recall my very first election. I was 14 years old and away from home at a school where I knew very few people. My classmates and I had to elect our class president. Each of us gave serious thought to this serious decision and responsibility. Needless to say, we did not all vote for the same person, but we did all vote. And after the ballots were tallied we unanimously supported the winning person as though we each had voted for him. That was an illustration of democracy at work successfully. This person went on to be class president for the next four years as well. There were no campaigns, no promises of reform, and no twisted arms. This guy won the election every year because we knew in our hearts that if a key decision needed to be made, he would make his choice because it was best for the class as a whole and not for any personal agenda he may have had.

I also remember supporting public candidates, even before I was old enough to vote. Learning to weigh the pros and cons of a platform was all a part of growing up. When I reached voting age, I made sure I was registered and that I voted. If I felt that if an elected official I had voted for let the team down by breaking a campaign promise, I had a right to challenge him or her. I was always puzzled by those people who gave up their right to vote because they didn't think it would matter anyway. Yet they still felt they had a right to complain any time something an elected official did or didn't do offended them. This behavior is very disrespectful of the democratic process.

An election has been called for early May. I hope people will take a moment to be grateful for the country in which we live and for the democratic principles which guide us. Not everyone in the world is this fortunate. Taking the privilege of voting for granted and discarding it as unimportant reveals a lot about people. One of the clearest things it reveals is how frustrated many of us become when what we believe being right is more important than being understanding, respectful and compassionate. If the person carrying our banner is criticized unjustly (part of the political process), we too often choose to fold our tents and throw up our arms in despair. We do not seem to want to take the time or make the effort to constructively defend our candidate. And then we scratch our heads and blame the system anytime things seem to go wrong or not in a direction that we prefer.

Our democratic process demands our respect and our participation. Every vote counts. If you believe in the principles of a party that is unlikely to win, vote for that party's candidate anyway. This is the magic and real value of the system and it is also its Achilles' heel. The number one job of a candidate on the campaign trail is to persuade their constituents to get out and vote. Whichever candidate does the best job at this, wins more often than not. The more people who vote, the more the democratic process demonstrates that it is working.

Naturally, prior to every election there are debates between the candidates. There are also discussions by the voters that result from these debates. These discussions can turn into heated arguments in a flash. As I mentioned earlier the reason for this is that the need for people to be right is a priority. I have found that by listening to all of the opinions which people have, I can more easily make a reasoned decision of my own. There is no need to raise one's voice. I have also noticed that people who raise their voices first, usually have the weakest arguments.

It is time to resurrect civility as part of the political process. By respecting one another's opinions, we can far more easily choose who and what is best for our communities. I am ashamed of most politicians today. They are elected to be our leaders and to set a good example for all of us. Not only do they demonstrate unkind, mean-spirited, and disrespectful behavior; they would have us believe that this sort of behavior is acceptable and in fact appropriate. It is not. I encourage voters to go to the poles and vote for the people they believe in. To hear someone state that they won't vote because they will only vote for who is going to win or no one at all is juvenile. It also sabotages our system. Well, you can't win if you don't play. And if you don't play, you have no business complaining when things don't go your way. There is no more important time to have respect and gratitude for the system that so many brave souls gave their lives for so we can live in the comfort and privilege of a free society. Voting ensures our freedom.