With the Olympics over and the campaigns in the home stretch, it’s a sure bet that we’ll be served up with a steady diet of political mailings and TV and radio ads between now and Election Day.

We won’t see much from either Presidential candidate, since Texas isn’t expected to be competitive, unlike Midwestern swing states like Ohio. Still, we’re in the midst of some hard-fought local races, which will, in turn, have a big impact on the makeup of the next U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature.

Now, for people like me, raised in very politically-oriented families where strongly-held and expressed opinions are the norm, this time of year is serious business, as well as a rich source of entertainment. As as example, I’m the kind of guy for whom a big Friday night is catching Shields and Gigot on PBS, then switching over to CNN.

The process of choosing our elected officials, besides being very important, has over the years that I’ve avidly followed it been a source of both high drama and, occasionally, low comedy.  Mostly, though, I maintain a passionate rooting interest not just because it’s ingrained in me but also because I fervently believe in the important of participating in our political system.

For most people, the best and most obvious way to do that is by voting.   Sad to say, however, a lot of people don’t seem to make voting much of a priority. Even in Presidential elections, which normally generate the highest turnout, only a little more than half of those eligible actually show up to cast their ballots. To some extent, part of this is due to some bureaucratic stumbling blocks to participation. For example, if you’ve moved and your new registration card isn’t forwarded to you, you’re purged from the rolls. Many other states do a better job of getting and keeping their citizens registered as voters.

Largely, though, this abysmal lack of participation is due to either cynicism or apathy, or both. I could do a whole other column, or several, on political cynicism, but suffice it to say for now that, yes, the system is flawed, but we can realistically say that it’s still better than most of what has passed for government in other times and places. Besides, I’ve always maintained that the system would work better and more cleanly the more that ordinary people stay informed, scrutinize it, and vote. Just remember that the original meaning of the Greek word “idiot” was someone who voluntarily didn’t participate in Athens’s democracy.

Apathy is something else altogether.

I can never understand how people can’t find 15 minutes or so every two years to help select our elected officials, who then make policy that affects all of us. There’s always a newspapers story about non-voters, and they always have some lame excuse like they forgot or they couldn’t find the time to go to a neighborhood polling place that’s open for 12 hours.

Another is “my vote doesn’t count” – but your one vote is equal to mine and everyone else’s. Frankly, I feel more kinship with those with whom I strongly disagree politically but who at least vote and take their responsibilities as citizens seriously.

On the other hand, as a former election judge, I’ve seen things that moved me profoundly, like elderly people who could barely walk or couldn’t even get out of the car but who showed up to vote, or the mother and 18-year-old daughter who came in with Mom proudly introducing daughter as voting in her first election.

Next election day, if you’re tempted to blow off the few minutes’ detour past your polling place, remember people like these and recall how many people have marched, done jail time, and sacrificed, in this country and others, for a right we take for granted so easily.

Besides–if you don’t vote, no one will take you seriously next time you complain about something.

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