Viewpoint: Get out and vote!

This Tuesday, Nov. 8, Mainers and all Americans will be going to the polls to elect a new national president and others to represent our towns, states, and country. In Maine, we also have a number of referendums to be decided. The campaigns on all sides, at all levels, during this 2016 election cycle have been unpleasant, divisive, and I believe, counterproductive in many ways. I will be glad when it is all over, whatever the outcome, so we can begin picking up the pieces and trying to figure out a way to move forward.

Which brings me to my main point: Get to a polling station and vote! Even if you don’t like any of the candidates, PLEASE exercise your right and privilege to mark an X on a ballot and have your say. Write in Mickey Mouse if you must (he’d probably do as good a job as any candidate running…). Vote for the party if you cannot stomach either main candidate — that will have an impact on Congress and the Supreme Court. If nothing else, casting your ballot gives you the right to moan about whoever gets elected. I refuse to listen to anyone complain unless they actually made the effort to vote.

I have had the good fortunate to live, work and travel in many places throughout my life, including countries with different forms of democracy and some with other forms of government. I highly value the perspective I gained through my experience and I will always vote in elections as long as I am able to do so.

I spent many years in England and learned about their system of party politics, as well as strategic voting. My friends from Australia, where voting is actually mandatory, tried to educate me about ranked voting (Maine referendum Question No. 5), which I still find rather confusing. Most recently, I lived in Viet Nam and I was fascinated by their form of a “democratic election.” It was quite obviously corrupt and with foregone conclusions, but it was at least shorter and more civil than the vitriolic sniping debacle of our current toxic campaigns.

The biggest influence for me regarding voting, and my inspiration for always exercising that precious right, was being in Prague, in the former Czechoslovakia, shortly before that country’s first elections in 44 years. The atmosphere was electric and everyone seemed to be buzzing with enthusiasm, especially the young people and university students who were my age at the time. The prospect of voting and finally having a voice in their government was so important to them; it made me really think about the significance of the right to vote, which was something I always took for granted. I cannot remember if I had voted in any U.S. presidential elections before then but I have done so in every one since, including voting by absentee ballot in the last two presidential elections via the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.

I believe all adult Americans have a fundamental civic and moral responsibility to vote in elections and there is absolutely no excuse for not doing so. Apathy is unforgiveable. Americans are lucky enough to be entitled to the right to vote simply by being born or naturalized in this country. Millions of people around the world are literally risking their lives and/or dying to simply mark an X on a ballot and have their voices heard. Not exercising your right to vote is like slapping them in the face.

The United States is the symbol of democracy around the world (however it is interesting to note that, as of 2013-14, the country did not make the top 10 list of the best democracies in the world, according to democracyranking.org). Our leaders are always throwing around the word “democracy” and U.S. military troops and others are stationed around the globe, often in harm’s way, to fight for and defend democracy, which includes and is epitomized by the simple act of voting. No American can consider themselves a patriot and deserving of the rights and privileges that come with being a citizen of this country unless they exercise their right to vote.

Maine always has an impressive turnout for elections, a fact we can be proud of, and this year is shaping up for record voter turnout. Still, little more than 50 percent of eligible voters turn up nationally — imagine what would happen if everyone showed up and cast a ballot.

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I say the path to a better world can begin by casting a single vote, and that vote could be yours. If you love your country and the rights and freedoms you enjoy by being an American citizen, VOTE! Let’s put this election behind us and start looking toward a better future. — P.B.

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