AUSTIN, TEXAS — Voting via computer and motor-voting are some of the latest gimmicks we have come up with to persuade people to be so kind as to cast their ballots. Here in Travis County, Texas, at great expense to the taxpayers, we have even instituted "early voting" in order to accommodate those folks who cannot make it on election day, though the polls will then be open a full 12 hours.
During early voting, at least 15 sites in our county are open for several days before the actual election day, inviting citizens to cast their ballots. But many of these sites average less than a dozen eager visitors per day. For voters' additional convenience there are mobile units cruising around. Also, dedicated citizens will offer rides to the polls for the asking. And absentee ballots are readily available, too.
Instead of rejoicing at our ingenuity to cajole an American citizen to cast his or her ballot, I can't help being utterly disgusted. I grew up in Germany under Hitler's totalitarian regime, and I recall well how we would have liked to enjoy the luxury of secret ballots. How the people in Soweto, South Africa, in 1994 valued their opportunity to participate in an honest election. Have we forgotten the picture showing how those South Africans stood in snaking lines for many hours in the scorching sun, awaiting their turn to cast their ballots?
Have we also forgotten the battles that were bitterly fought in our own country to secure the vote for women, for blacks, and 18-year-olds? It hasn't been that long ago. Was it all for nothing?
Some people even brag that it's their right not to vote. These folks are likely to be among those who most noisily criticize our elected officials, those officials who are elected by the majority of just a small percentage of those citizens who even bothered to register to vote.
But if we refuse to accept as certainty that "right" and "responsibility" go hand in hand, then we do not deserve our freedoms. Once those are allowed to become meaningless platitudes, they will ultimately be lost. No degree of devotion to military service, by itself, can fulfill our obligations as citizens of the United States.
Since the day I arrived in America I have never been able to understand why it is too much of an effort for people to go and vote but it never seems to be too much trouble to attend a ball game. I have been advised that it is too time-consuming to study election issues or candidates' views. Besides, it's all so confusing. Then why does it seem to be no problem at all to learn the complicated rules which are governing football?
No distance seems too great, no expense too large for Americans to attend a sporting event. The stadiums are filled to the brim. And for those fans who lack the time or money to travel to such games, we should institute "Early Golf Tournaments" or "Early Super Bowls." They should be scheduled in several locations, of course, and naturally, the taxpayers or the employers will pick up the tab for the tickets and for transportation, too. It's a free country, right?
*Margaret Hofmann is a former member of the Austin (Texas) City Council.
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