Opinion

Voters have forgotten importance of elections

According to the United Nations, 90 percent of eligible Afghans have registered to vote in that country's landmark October elections - a resounding endorsement of a democratic experiment that may help Afghanistan turn its back on years of debilitating war.

The Afghan people realize the importance of voting in a democracy. But the people of Washington state seem to have forgotten.

In 1952, when Ike was elected President and Arthur Langlie was elected Washington's governor, 91 percent of eligible citizens in our state were registered and 80 percent of them voted.

But in 2002, only 70 percent of eligible voters were registered and just over half of those people voted. That means that only 35 percent of eligible state residents voted.

Even though our state's population has grown four-fold since Eisenhower's time, the percent of people registering and voting is steadily declining - despite the fact people can register online and plop their ballots in the mail rather than trekking off to polling places.

Watching this trend, it is no wonder union leaders are pushing their "labor-neighbor" program. "Labor-neighbor" is simple. Union members encourage their family, friends and neighbors to register and vote. Most importantly, they make sure they vote.

As a kid growing up in Montana, I saw it work firsthand. My father was treasurer of his union and the Democratic Party in Silver Bow County, and in the Brunell household, the "get out the vote" effort was a family affair.

During election time, one of my jobs was to go through the new telephone book and make sure that the phone numbers for union members, their friends and families were accurate. On Election Day, the union poll watchers used my list to call people who had not voted. Sometimes cars were dispatched to pick them up and drive them to the polls. My Dad joked, "Whether they got a ride home depended on how they voted!"

Joking aside, voter turnout will determine who sits in the Oval Office and who controls the state Legislature. It is essential that employers encourage their families, friends and associates to register and vote.

If you think a few votes here or there don't matter, consider what happened in 2000 when the Bush-Gore race came down to a few hundred votes in Florida and the infamous "hanging chads."

Then in 2002, six House seats in the Washington Legislature were decided by fewer than 600 votes. Republican Jack Cairnes won by a mere 92 votes of the 32,000 votes cast in Kent and Democrat Debbie Wallace edged out Jim Dunn by 376 votes out of 29,000 cast in Vancouver.

In the Senate, four of the 24 seats were decided by fewer than 1,300 votes. Republican Bob Oke beat Democrat Betty Ringlee by 343 votes with more than 41,000 votes cast.

Voting is a right and a privilege that citizens in many other countries wish they had. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is August 14. Get your friends and family members registered, and make sure they vote.

Don Brunell is the President of the Association of Washington Business

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