The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 4, 2011

David A. Knepper | Voter responsibility does not end at the ballot box

David A. Knepper

— Anyone who has studied American government knows that the framers of the Constitution established a republic, not a democracy.

This fact is reinforced whenever we recite the Pledge of Allegiance – adopted by Congress in 1942 – in the line  “… and to the republic for which it stands. ...”     

 Undoubtedly, our forefathers were highly skeptical that the American people could ever reach consensus on policy issues without turbulence and contention that could weaken or, worse yet, destroy this new nation.  

The distinction between a republic and a democracy is that in the former, the people choose representatives who form policy, ideally on behalf of their constituents. 

However, in the latter, voters have limited power in determining local policy decisions through ballot initiatives and referendums. This incidentally has never been enacted into law by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Yet there is an opportunity to shift the power of governance at regular intervals in an election year. In actuality,  a shift occurs, at least for that one day, in pure form of democratization, where the rule of the voters can change the political landscape.

This is “legislating” term limits through the ballot box. 

Voting is the most self-rewarding civic responsibility that we as a free people can exercise. According to a principle of our founding, we are a nation ruled by the people.

What we take for granted  other people – those living in oppressive governments – continue to fight and die for their right to choose their leaders in free and open elections.  

That fact alone should make every American, 18 years and older, exercise his or her civic responsibility by resolving to vote in each election. To do so, you are not only recognizing the power of your vote, but you are honoring those who in our history were denied this basic right of all citizens, irrespective of their gender, race or religion.

Let’s look at some numbers from the recent general election. Based on data supplied by the Cambria County election office, only 36 percent of the county’s 85,290 registered voters went to the polls. 

When one looks at the 2010 census data, of the 115,444 persons 18 years and older in Cambria County, roughly only 1 out of 4 voted.

Congratulations to those who did take the time to register and to vote for our next leaders. Perhaps in the next election the voters can persuade the self-imposed “disenfranchised” to vote.

It is unfortunate that many American voters prefer to stay at home on Election Day, a “malady” best known as  voter apathy. It is a theme that seems to be the general sentiment of voters today.

By staying away from the polls, they are quite simply casting a bogus vote that they have lost their hope and trust in elected officials, who they believe to be out of touch with the issues facing everyday Americans.

With stinging rebuke, many voters unabashedly will tell you that all politicians are crooks, if not before they get elected then soon after.

Many voters are now growing more frustrated with their inability to understand the issues because government has “gotten so darn complicated.” 

They are particularly worried about the direction the country is going and whether the job situation will improve.

Voters need to share with our government leaders some of the blame in not actively engaging in voter registration drives. They also need to clearly, without injecting political bias or engaging in political rhetoric, participate in serious debate on the key issues that affect both families and communities. 

Responsible citizenship includes not only having a moral and civic obligation to  obey the law, pay one’s fair share of taxes, and support needed programs and services while enjoying those benefits, but also to become a vocal spokesperson on the importance of voting.

Such campaigns at the grass-roots level begin now, not weeks before the next election.

Just ask this of family, friends, neighbors or co-workers: “Did you vote in the last election, and if not, why didn’t you?”

Perhaps someday, through the Internet, we can enjoy the option of casting our vote  from the convenience of our home.

Now I am off to do my part by honoring an invitation to speak to students in one local high school.

Hopefully, you will do your part to get out the vote in the 2012 spring primary.

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.


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