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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Commentary: Voting Isn’t Enough

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Across this country, getting folks out to the polls to cast ballots during any and all elections has required Herculean efforts in recent times, so asking people to do any more than that may seem almost pointless.

Yet “more” is precisely what will be asked of North Adams’ registered voters within this writing.

For those of you content to ignore local elections and let others decide your fate, my advice is to hit the “x” icon, close this page, and return to your slumber.

For those of you who want to stand and be counted during the Nov. 8 election, read on.

The right to vote may well be the most powerful of all the United States rights and freedoms.

The right to free speech may be overshadowed by fears of reprisal or alienation from individuals who object to the sharing of views. In so many cases, it’s much easier to carry the courage of convictions silently. And that’s OK, having the right to speak freely doesn’t obligate anyone to exercise that right.

Of course, we all know what may come from a lack of exercise.

The right to a free press was written into the Bill of Rights, but the media’s ability to actually acquire complete information, investigate situations, and report fully to the public is being slowly eroded by everything from industry budget constraints and reporting staff cuts to stonewalling, secrecy, hassles, and hoop-jumping initiated by a growing number of corporate executives and elected government officials.

True story: several years ago, during a summer heat wave, a newspaper editor asked me to write a story about “hot jobs,” meaning outdoor labors, and “cool jobs,” such as working in a grocery meat department. Being an obedient reporter, I asked employees of a certain public highway department who were clearing roadside brush if the work was “hot.” I was told they could not answer any media questions and that I would have to contact their superiors to find out if working in 90-plus temperatures was hot work. And when I ventured into a local supermarket and asked employees working in the meat room if they were happy to be toiling in a cool environment, I was informed that I would need to call the company headquarters for the answer to that question.

Clearly, both “speech” and the “press” aren’t quite as “free” as they used to be.

Which leads me back to the right to vote, the right to enter a closed booth and cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice.

Despite national debacles over hanging chads, discarded absentee ballots, and malfunctioning voting equipment, the actual right to vote remains intact, and is integral to a democracy. Employers may not terminate employment because employees cast ballots. No one is permitted to barricade driveways in an effort to reduce voter turnout. No one has the authority insist that voters divulge how they voted, or use intimidation tactics to coerce voters to vote for a specific candidate or outcome.

The voting booth is a private sanctuary, and in this country, by law, no individual may interfere with the voting process. When it comes to voting, it’s all about individual choice. To cast a ballot is to do the impossible: speak your mind without saying one word.

There’s always a catch, though, and the right to vote does come with an accompanying responsibility, which is to become an informed voter. And that requires some effort.

Yes, we are a busy, busy, busy society. Our daily lives are overflowing with job, household, and family issues that swarm around every moment like mosquitoes in summer.

But voting is not enough.

It is truly necessary to read the newspapers, listen to radio news reports, become aware of issues and even contact election candidates and query them about their visions, their views, their opinions. Attend debates, invite candidates to speak at civic or community group meetings, learn what issues are impacting the community and how various outcomes may affect the citizens.

Ask the tough questions. Listen to the answers. Decide who will secure your vote.

And then, on Election Day, go to the polls, step into the booth, and cast your ballot.

The majority can only rule when the majority votes.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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