Opinion » Editorial

American Democracy?



By all accounts, the simple act of voting this summer, whether early or on Election Day, August 3rd, is going to be something of an adventure. Besides deciding among the single largest collection of candidates in Tennessee election history, Shelby Countians will be dealing with all-new voting machines whose electronic kinks, it appears, have not been entirely worked out.

But perhaps neither the quantity of candidates nor the quality of the electronic software will prove to be much of an issue if what's happened already in America this summer is any indication. In a front-page story Monday, USA Today detailed a disturbing trend in domestic politics: abysmally low turnout figures in 22 state primary elections held earlier this summer. To call those numbers a national embarrassment would be an understatement, especially when the current administration claims that bringing democracy to the nations of the Middle East is one of its foreign-policy priorities.

Looks like that fruit is pretty rotten all across America. In Oregon, just 39 percent of eligible voters showed up for that state's May 16th primary. But that figure was by far the nation's best. Check out South Carolina, where just 16 percent voted in the primary. Iowa? A mere 12 percent. And Texas? A miserable 10 percent.

Pride of place, however, goes to the "good" citizens of Virginia, where, on June 13th, the state's 4.5 million eligible voters had an opportunity to cast Senate primary ballots. Only 3.5 percent, just one out of every 28 potential Virginia voters, determined that Democrat Jim Webb would square off against incumbent George Allen in that state's Senate race next fall. These guys haven't acquired "political capital;" they don't even have change for the parking meter.

Here in Shelby County, we ourselves have been spectacularly indolent. In two special elections last year, turnout averaged just 5 percent. But this year important issues need to be resolved at the ballot box as we determine the shape of the Shelby County Commission and Democratic and Republican nominees for both the House and the Senate. Most important of all, perhaps, are the races for state, county, and city judicial positions, where the successful candidates will be ours to keep for eight long years. Should you fail to exercise your right to vote, you will forfeit any right to complain whenever you feel yourself victimized by the actions of an incompetent judge or good-for-nothing county official.

Fortunately, a host of different groups -- political parties, bar associations, even locally prominent individuals -- have put out detailed analyses of candidates and their positions on various issues. Space prohibits us from publishing all these here, but you can find links to most at MemphisFlyer.com. We would particularly like to call your attention to the efforts of the Coalition for a Better Memphis, a nonpartisan volunteer group which has taken the time to analyze candidates' views on a wide variety of issues and score them accordingly, without making recommendations as such. The fruit of their excellent efforts can be seen at BetterMemphis.org.

Live strong. Vote smart. And don't make Memphis another brick in the apathy wall.

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