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EDITORIAL: Too busy to vote?


IF YOU’RE READING this newspaper you’re most likely registered to vote and probably will cast a ballot in the November 8 election. Urging people like you to register wastes your time… unless maybe this would be an opportunity to ask that niece who sneers at government whether she plans to do something with all that hot air.

There’s still time, but not much. The last day for average citizens to claim their right to cast a ballot is Saturday, October 15 and anyone who waits until that last day must register in person at the county Board of Elections at county office building, 401 State Street, Hudson. Your niece, of course, can’t get there Saturday because she has other plans. No problem. The office will be open from 2 until 9 p.m. that night, which means she can still get to the party after registering.

The next challenge is planning how to get her to the polls on Election Day. For this, you must have an answer for the existential question: Why bother?

It sounds corny but the answer is: Because it matters. In local races especially, every voter has the potential to influence outcomes. Look at the numbers.

This used to be a county where registered Republicans far outnumbered Democrats. Twenty years ago, when Democrat Bill Clinton was running for reelection against Republican Bob Dole, there were over 13,400 registered Republicans versus 9,700 Democrats. The second largest voting bloc back then was made up of voters who chose no political party. Even as recently as 2008, when Barrack Obama won his first term as president against John McCain, the GOP held a slim lead in registration.

The registration figures in April of this year showed there were 13,037 “active” Democratic Party voters in the county followed by 11,774 “active” Republicans. Not far behind are the 10,724 citizens registered to vote without picking a party. Nobody has a clear majority here. There are minor parties too, but the largest of them, the Independence Party, only accounts for a few thousand voters. So by default the Democrats should now be running everything, right?

Clearly not. Republicans hold a firm majority on the county governing body, the Board of Supervisors, which is made up town supervisors. Three members of the state Assembly represent districts that cover parts of the county. One is a Democrat, two are Republicans. Our state senator is a Republican as is our congressman. All of our state representatives–Assembly and Senate–must run for reelection this November, though only two, one Democrat and one Republican, face challengers.

There is also a competitive race for the seat in Congress for the 19th District, with a recent poll showing only one percentage point difference between the two candidates, Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout. All of Columbia County lies within the 19th District, and though we’re only the fifth largest of the 11 counties in the district, voters here could decide the outcome of this tight race.

Statewide, voter registration overwhelmingly favors Democrats. But the contests likely to have the most immediate effect on our lives are what are often referred to as “down-ballot” races for Congress, and state and local offices. The presidential race overshadows the these lower profile match-ups as it should, but to assume that down-ballot races aren’t worth the effort it takes to vote is like saying you’re too busy to remain free.

If it works to nag slacker citizens into registering and voting, then go for it. But that sounds more like desperation than a workable strategy. Some countries make voting mandatory, though it’s not clear that tactic leads to better governance, either. When you think about it, we’re bombarded by opportunities to vote in everything from our choice of products at the supermarket to online reviews of goods and services, not to mention which of our acquaintances we are willing to Like.

Instead of having to drag yourself to the Board of Elections and then to the polls one time each year, we should be able to handle the whole registration process on our phones. We’re inching that direction now–registrations forms are already online. And once we can actually cast un-hackable e-votes, we’ll wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.

Until then, let’s assume that democracy is strengthened with every new voter and if you can convince one or two more to visit board’s 401 State Street office in Hudson before 9 p.m. October 15, you’ll have done something worthwhile.

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