Last week The Brainerd Dispatch reprinted an op-ed piece by self-proclaimed political pundit Robert Reno. He told undecided voters to "stay home" rather than vote. Noting that this year's presidential election may be too close to call, Reno further lamented that these undecided voters may well decide the fate of America for the next four years. Some of these "insipid people," he says, "are, no doubt, just plain stupid." It gives him "the creeps" that, "since everybody else has had sense enough to make up their minds, these confused souls are the only people who'll count on Election Day."
Just this weekend, another editorial in a Twin Cities newspaper compared undecided voters with those who have fits at the grocery store when asked, "paper or plastic?" Yet, thoughtful, serious-minded voters may have legitimate grounds for remaining unconvinced about the field of presidential contenders. Some may consider, for example, Gore's environmental stance preferable to Bush's, yet not as strong as Nader's. That same person may favor Bush's stated fiscal conservatism. Others may support Buchanan or Nader for other reasons, but fear "wasting" their vote. Especially lately, considerable effort has been expended to convince Nader supporters to abandon their favored choice for a more "viable" one. The indecision that some voters have should not be trivialized by assuming that they have no sense.
On the other hand, some folks do vote on a whim, somehow believing that the act of voting alone solidifies their claim to be good citizens. These votes count just as much as the votes of those who decided months ago. That is the beauty and the tragedy of our electoral process. Some suggest that the process of voting should be more difficult. This would allow only those who are truly committed to vote. Others believe that voting fulfills the single most important function of a good citizen, and so should be made even more accessible. Both beliefs may fall short of the ideal. True, although one vote counts as much as the next, good citizens should carefully consider the impact of their vote. Sometimes local elections are decided by remarkably narrow margins. The thought that some voters have influenced that outcome without regard for the issues is chilling. For those of you who plan to vote, but are not sure about a particular race, remember that there is no shame in leaving some portions of your ballot blank. Better that than blindly trying to conjure up some guidance in the voting booth.
Gov. Ventura suggested several weeks ago that people can make the biggest impact as citizens by voting. (Clearly, he benefited from the large turnout of previously disenfranchised voters.) But there lurks in this belief a monumental danger: that voting, without more, is enough. Voting is not enough. Concerned citizens from all walks of life can positively influence their own lives, and the lives of those around them, far more by devoting their time, efforts, and, yes, money to the causes and ideas that are important to them. After this election, no matter what the results, we should take comfort (and challenge) in the knowledge that we do not have to wait another two, or four, years to influence our community and our world. Vote, yes. But don't stop there. Be someone who will count after Election Day.
(Yahn is a Nisswa area resident and an attorney who works at Universal Pensions Inc.)
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