Editorial: Remember, rememberFile Photo provided by Dena Mellick
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The first time I walked into a polling place, I was with my father.
I remember they had paper ballots then. There was no hassle or scrutiny. You showed up, told the polling worker your name and they crossed you off the list before handing you a ballot.
My dad was a union Democrat, steeped in Southern politics. More than likely, he wouldn’t recognize what the party has become today, though I suspect he’d get used to it. He could always find reasons to get along with anyone, even people he disagreed with. When he worked for the Post Office, he was elected shop steward, the person who mediates disputes between workers and management. I suppose he could’ve been a politician himself if he wanted, though he was plenty busy raising two kids and working long hours to support them. He was charming enough. And he knew the issues well, especially the local ones.
He voted like it was a religious obligation, in every election no matter what was on the ballot. I remember the day my hometown of Mobile, Ala. voted to legalize Sunday alcohol sales.
“There were so many Catholics at the polling place, you could’ve given out communion,” he said. “When I walked in, a friend from our church told me, ‘The box for yes is in the bottom left corner.'”
He kept up with the issues. He was a devout reader of the newspaper and a consumer of national politics. He could tell you what was on your ballot and where you could vote, or at least where you could go to find out.
More than anything, my dad believed in good government. He believed government could make our lives better. He saw himself as I see myself: a stakeholder in this fragile and flawed form of democracy. And through his actions he taught me something important that sticks with me to this day: if people don’t use their right to vote, if they take that right for granted, that right becomes endangered.
Voting is the only way we can truly hold our elected officials accountable. It’s the only way we can protect ourselves from government excesses without violence or the threat of it. It’s the only way we can ensure good government and keep our basic rights off the endangered list.
The last time dad voted was in the 2008 presidential election. He submitted his vote by absentee ballot while he was in hospice care.
On Nov. 5, 2019, we have an important local election coming up. All local elections are important, but the ones in Avondale Estates and Decatur this year are particularly so. There are three City Commission seats on the ballot in each city, enough seats to change the way those cities operate. Voters can decide whether they like the way things are going in the cities of Avondale and Decatur or if it’s time for a change.
More than any other government, it’s the local government that has the most power to shape your life, to pave your street or raise your taxes. And yet we too often take these elections for granted, preferring only to focus on our national politics that take up so much of our energy and oxygen.
You only get to elect a president every four years. In our cities, you get a chance at making government better every two years. That always sounded like a better deal to me, but sometimes people are afraid to vote because they don’t feel like they know the candidates, or the issues or what’s at stake.
The decline of local media has made that lack of confidence more acute. I would like to think Decaturish has done its part to restore the confidence of our local electorate so they can be comfortable that, when they vote, they’re voting for someone they know well enough to trust with their city’s future. I am sure I could’ve done more deep digging into the issues. I’m only one person and covering elections isn’t the only thing I have to worry about. There were some stories I looked into that didn’t make because I simply ran out of time to cover them adequately. Every election cycle I learn something new about covering local elections and I resolve to make sure our coverage is that much better the next time.
That said, I think we’ve given people enough information to make a decision.
Anyone who is still undecided can check out Decaturishvotes.com. All of our coverage is there. Most of the candidates in Decatur and Avondale Estates have responded to our questionnaires, and there are links to coverage of forums in Decatur and Avondale Estates.
As Election Day approaches, I always hope we’ve done enough while knowing that we can always do more, that the work is never done.
And really, that’s true of our form of government. Our work is never done. The work of educating and equipping ourselves to make these decisions is a thankless task that can never be finished. Even when we vote for people, we realize that they are still people and people can fail us. They can misstep and break promises. But, with any luck, they can also make good decisions, push for good government and do good things for the people they are elected to serve.
That’s the goal anyway. The effort we make to reach that goal is never wasted.
To our candidates who ran for office this year, thank you. Thank you for your interest in public service and your willingness to submit yourselves to the scrutiny that comes with seeking public office. And even if you do not win, please don’t drop out of sight. Our community always needs committed people willing to do the hard work of making our community better.
And to the people in our local cities, I encourage you to remember, remember this fifth of November and go vote in our local elections. It’s important.
Don’t take your vote for granted.
Early voting will end on Friday, Nov. 1. For more information about that, click here.
Polls open on Nov. 5 at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. You will need to be 18 to vote and need to bring a legal form of identification with you. To see your sample ballot and polling place, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter page by clicking here.