When's The Last Time You Paid For Democracy?

What price would you pay for democracy?

It’s not a trick question, and I’ll ask it again. What price would you pay to live in a democratic country like the United States?

We all must pay a price for living in a democracy, as flawed and imperfect as it seems at times. Those who serve in our military or lawful immigrants who came to this country from a country that violates their basic human rights just might have a better sense of that price.

The price? We could probably ask 10 people and receive 10 dissimilar answers. But I have a suggestion that most of us might be able to agree upon as a “price,” though obligation might be a more accurate term.  We do not have a legal decree that requires us to vote, but there is, I believe, a moral obligation — yes, obligation — that we fulfill by voting.

There is simply no clearer manifestation of democracy at work than when members of a society express their political feelings and preferences through the voting process.

Sadly, many people don’t vote. Only about 55 percent of people of voting age take advantage of this opportunity,  according to the Pew Research Center. What makes this number more unsettling is that when Pew compared our voting percentage to other democracies, we’re less than average.  In a list of 35 democratic countries, we land at the 26th spot for voting participation, behind Estonia and just beating out little Luxembourg.

We have the power to change those modest vote-casting percentages.

Throughout all my blogs in recent years, I have urged my bosses — those of you whom I represent — to act on a wide variety of issues that are for the betterment of all New Jersey residents. However, voting remains the fundamental civic obligation from which all other actions and activities spring. It remains the finest testament to personal and political freedom and the best approach to initiating change. I’m writing this blog as your senator not because of my birthright, or by fiat or by some political lottery. I’m here because you voted for me, which allows me to represent you in our legislature. And that’s how the system should work: legally and responsibly.

I would offer encouragement for voter participation on three fronts. The first is that you vote in the next election, Tuesday, Nov. 6.  If you’re unsure about the details, visit https://www.nj.gov/state/elections/index.html. This site will answer almost all your questions. If  you prefer calling, the telephone number is 609-777-1280. Voter participation in midterm elections tends to drop. Don’t become a negative statistic. Cast your vote Tuesday!

The second front is to befriend someone who hasn’t voted and help them to cast their vote. It might require assisting them to register, finding their polling location or explaining issues on the ballot. Be a good, thoughtful citizen and help your soon-to-be fellow voter.

The last front would be to consider the ultimate community service: working the polls in an upcoming election. The NJ Division of Elections is always seeking citizens – whether they are college students or retired residents or anyone in between – to serve as poll workers, and will provide training to those who apply. Those who are interested can fill out this application and return it to their county’s Board of Elections if not for this year, at least you can get on the list for an upcoming election.

In 1782, an Act of Congress designated a Latin phrase, E pluribus Unum, as our national motto. Its English translation is “out of many, one. “

I would like to think on this eve of an approaching election that it is our vote — the many — that contributes to the one, the United States of America.

And it always starts right here, at home, in New Jersey. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, cast your vote, and when you pull that curtain aside and leave the voting booth, I hope there’s a little extra spring to your step. You just fulfilled your civic obligation and played a small personal part in that American experiment called democracy. Remember, as my Grandma Queen says, “If you just observe then you get the government you deserve.”

That’s my take, what’s yours?


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  • Frank Friedman
    commented 2018-11-01 20:41:04 -0400
    Again – right on target.

    Two related items.

    1. In my ten years in NJ, I have waited for no more than 5 minutes to vote and often have no wait at all. My daughter lives in Baltimore and, on occasion has had to wait upwards of three hours to vote. Why are polling places not more intelligently distributed so that no one has to wait more than 30 minutes to vote nor travel more than 30 minutes?

    I can walk to my polling place in Delanco, but almost always vote around 9am on the way to work, so I take my car. I know a lot of people who do not vote. Unbelievable.

    By the way, I think you should send this message to Barack Obama. In a very real way, if you do not vote, you have, one way or another, done a disservice to everyone who has served in the military, especially those who died fighting for our country, and their families.

    Thanks for this. Let’s spread the word across this great land of ours so that perhaps we can keep it great and avoid the ravages of the current majority leadership in Washington.

    Well done.

    Frank