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Be a responsible, educated voter

Thinking about voting? This year it has become more convenient than ever. I use the word convenient rather than easy because voting should never be easy, but it should be convenient.

New York state has instituted early voting, and this is the first election that it is being implemented. Chautauqua County has three early voting locations: the Board of Elections in Mayville, the Chautauqua Mall, and the Dunkirk Fairgrounds. Cattaraugus County has two: the Board of Elections in Little Valley and the Olean campus of Jamestown Community College.

Erie County residents have 37 designated early polling sites. The times vary a bit among counties, but all have been open all week from Oct. 26 and will be open Saturday and Sunday. Chautauqua County sites will be open from noon to 5 p.m. both days. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the traditional election day, voters will go to their regular polling places, which will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

How did we end up with this first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as our official Election Day? Congress passed the law in 1845 because of our farmers. In a mainly agrarian 19th century United States, farmers had to travel long distances to reach polling places, so needed a 2-day window to accomplish this. Sundays were for worship and Wednesdays were for market, so Tuesday was a good fit. Also the choice of November involved avoiding planting, harvesting, and harsh winter travel.

That worked out the best for those times, but we live differently now. Lifestyles are so varied, that one optimal day of the year is not the best solution for facilitating voter participation. Now, the more options available, the better chance of giving everyone the opportunity to cast their ballot. The internet has played a huge role in informing and registering voters. Absentee ballots can be readily obtained so that voters do not need to plan their travels around election dates. Continued progress in voting reform should be encouraged so that, in addition to convenience, the integrity of the process is preserved giving voters confidence that their vote will be recorded properly.

Every U.S. citizen, regardless of race, religion, economic status, or any other subgroup, has the right and the duty to vote. No citizen should be impeded in any way from doing so. Restrictions which affect certain groups in disparate ways and political tactics which skew results such as gerrymandering, should be eliminated from the process.

The Electoral College has become a concern in recent presidential elections. In 2000, George Bush beat Al Gore by a slim margin in electoral votes, 271 to 266, and Gore bested Bush by a small percentage — 0.51% — of the popular vote. Problems in the Florida voting system, and a subsequent Supreme Court decision against a recount, gave the election to Bush. Had a recount been allowed, it is probable that Gore would have been president. Bush’s Florida votes were only 537 more than Gore’s for the entire state. Gore’s nationwide popular vote margin of over a half million votes makes more sense in awarding victory than Bush’s 537 vote margin.

Then there was 2016. With all its additional election controversies, the fact remains that the outmoded constructs of the Electoral College played a role in the questionable outcome. Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes nationally than Donald Trump, a considerable lead. However, there were three states, polled to favor Clinton, where Trump unexpectedly received the win by very small margins — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those states gave Trump the electoral votes he needed. He claimed afterward that it was his strategy all along; maybe it was strategy, but probably not his.

The electoral system no longer reflects the will of the people. It is a static system which does not keep up with population shifts. It gives voters in states with small, spread-out populations up to five or six times the power in their vote compared to larger, more populated states. Its inequality needs to be addressed before this happens again. It was not the intention of the founders to distort the will of the people, but they feared the populace might be manipulated by a tyrant where electors would be savy enough to ensure that the individual was qualified and forthright. Ironically, this time the people seem to have gotten it right. The Electoral College selected the candidate whose actions have destined him for impeachment.

And voting should not be easy. It is a serious responsibility of every citizen to be informed about the candidates they vote for, to demand transparency, truth, and clear statements of where they stand and what they believe in, to pay attention to voting records of incumbents to see if they practice what they preach and deserve to be re-elected. Not a job to take lightly.

And it is our job. The U.S. has one of the worst voter turnout percentages of world democracies, at 55.7% of voting age population in 2016. We rank 26th out of 32. With improvements in convenience, shouldn’t we be doing better? If we are thinking about voting, we should be thinking “who should I vote for?” and not “should I bother voting?”.

On the flip side, shouldn’t voters be given more choices when they go to the polls? Why are there so many unopposed candidates in local elections?

Why do people need to take time from their busy schedule, maybe get a babysitter, maybe take off work, maybe arrange an Uber, maybe even contend with physical difficulty, to go vote for someone who is going to get the position anyway?

Maybe they don’t approve of the candidate — but what choice do they have? It is another responsibility of ours to run for office if we are capable, to give back in public service to our community and country. We owe it to our democracy, to keep it alive and functioning. Democracy needs voters — Voters need a choice.

Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident.

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