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My Turn: The voter's responsibilities

Posted: October 9, 2012 - 12:01am

Freedom, patriotism, the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers — all rallying cries when talking about politics in the USA. But we don’t hear much talk about our responsibilities as citizens in a free society. Every freedom we enjoy comes with citizen responsibilities; here are three to ponder.

1. Get registered to vote as soon as possible. It’s easy, takes just 10 minutes. Even if you are too late for the November election, you will be ready for following elections. But don’t forget that in November, if you are not registered, you can still vote for President and Vice-President by showing up at a polling place and casting a questioned ballot.

2. Educate yourself about the issues by checking a variety of information sources. Listen to reasonable logic on both sides of an issue. Be wary of sources/speakers that rely on logical fallacies like those listed below.

a. Oversimplification involves ignoring the complexity of an issue or policy. Most public issues and policies are fairly complicated, and clever sound bites don’t do them justice.

b. Stereotyping means casting all members of a group into the same, usually negative, light based on one or two examples. Don’t base your vote on this fallacy. Every candidate is an individual and deserves careful consideration.

c. Name-calling attacks the candidate or party and ignores the important issues. Name-calling impairs the citizen’s ability to hear and participate in a civil discussion of the complex business of running a free country. Be polite to those you disagree with and demand that they do the same and focus on the issues.

d. Faulty Cause and Effect can lead to conclusions that are false. This can happen when one event closely follows another, making it appear that the first event caused the second.

e. Either/Or Arguments are based on the idea that if you disagree with a point-of-view you are unpatriotic, a socialist, a communist, a fascist (for example). This type of argument tends to polarize a discussion and ignore issue complexity. In addition, these arguments reduce the discussion to name-calling and stereotyping, leaving no room for the type of discussion that might result in creative problem-solving.

f. Appeals to Emotion invoking fear, religion, patriotism, hatred or other powerful emotional triggers can move the conversation away from logic and weaken efforts at compromise. For example, don’t let images of mushroom-shaped clouds or 3 a.m. phone calls be the only thing to shape your vote. Temper emotional responses with logic when you are making decisions.

g. Unsupported Assertions state that something is true without offering credible proof to back up those assertions. Always search for the facts behind such statements. Half-truths have a way of creeping into politics; they may sound true until you search further.

3. After you have armed yourself with the facts, VOTE! Low voter turnout can mean that less than half of the registered voters are making the decisions for the rest of the population. That is not how a democracy or a republic is supposed to work. Do the math: Juneau just completed a municipal election with a voter turnout of about 32 percent of 24,500 registered voters, equaling 7850 ballots cast. Winning required 50.1 percent of the votes cast or 3933 votes, equaling a mere 16 percent of the total registered voters. A democracy is diminished when 32 percent of the registered voters go to the polls and make decisions for the remaining 68 percent.

Now, here I should invoke the Founding Fathers and mention their imagined disgust at recent voter turnout; such a reference would be an obvious appeal to patriotism to get out the vote. However, history teaches us that those Founding Fathers didn’t allow minorities or women to vote; in fact, it was only through many decades in which women and minorities fought and risked their lives to win the right to vote that they were allowed to enter the voting booth. This is an historical fact, documented in most history books, and, yes, invoking this fact is meant to appeal to both your logic and your emotions to get you out to the polls.

• Andree is a Juneau resident, associate professor of English (retired) and president of the League of Women Voters Juneau.

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