AUSTIN, TEXAS — Ah, for the blessings of not living in a "swing state." For not being plagued with calls from a candidate's phone bank. Texas, the home state of President Bush, is considered firmly in the Republicans' pocket. Democrats don't have to waste their time registering voters, and on Election Day, they won't even need to go to the polls. What a relief! A lot of Republicans can do the same, because they have been assured for months that they have already won here. The situation is reversed in Massachusetts, and whether certain other states will be in the "blue column" or in the "red column" has long been settled as well.
But wait a minute. Is this really what we want to teach our children? "Forget about voting. Pollsters have all but determined the outcome of the election." Is this the democratic way of which we are so proud? The way we are dying - literally - to introduce to other countries? If this is not the legacy we want to leave future generations, then we need to realize that we still have it in our power to turn every pundit's prediction on its head. We can do it!
Recently on TV we saw thousands of Afghans - many who'd traveled great distances at great risk to their lives - waiting for hours to cast votes for the first time. But will there be long lines of American citizens eager to vote? Who've taken the trouble to study the issues? Have we already forgotten how, 10 years ago, the people of South Africa stood in the boiling heat for hours to cast their ballots? And how millions the world over (and this included my parents in Nazi Germany) have yearned for the privilege to have a voice in determining their leader?
Are we not embarrassed when we realize that many of these people have heard that our election campaigns may spend billions of dollars on cleverly crafted ads to sway undecided voters? That they have learned of the convenience of absentee ballots and, in Texas and a handful of other states, of "early voting" - a system that allows everyone to cast a ballot several days, or even weeks, preceding the actual election? Nevertheless, in many US elections, fewer than half of all registered voters bother to make the small effort to do their civic privilege.
It wasn't so long ago that women in this country risked, and sometimes even lost, their lives to obtain the right to vote. And when they succeeded, no one doubted that their daughters would be worthy of their mothers' sacrifices. Where are most of these women now?
And what of the African-Americans and other minorities who struggled so hard to obtain their full rights as American citizens? It hasn't been that long since club-wielding police, menacing dogs, and high pressure water hoses were trained on them; that buses were set on fire because their occupants - blacks and whites alike - had come to help their fellow citizens register to vote and, later, accompany them to the ballot box. Where are their sons and daughters? Were their parents' sacrifices for nothing?
Where are the young people who persuaded legislators that they were entitled to vote when they turned 18, arguing that if they were old enough to fight in Vietnam, they surely were old enough to cast a ballot? Where will they and their voting-age children be on Election Day?
Let's not allow the pollsters and the pundits to declare whom, except in certain "battleground" states, we have already elected to become the president. Let's surprise them, along with everybody who puts more faith in them than in their own ability to get out the vote. Let's shock them with a 90 percent turnout. (And why stop there?)
Let's remember the Afghans, the South Africans, the American women, the African-Americans, and those who turned 18 in 1971 - all who made sacrifices to participate in the political process.
The best way to thank our courageous forebears, to show our appreciation for what they did for us and for future generations, is to do that for which they were willing to sacrifice.
On Election Day, let's be sure that we make it our decision who will be our next president.
• Margret Hofmann is a former member of the Austin, Texas city council.