Freedoms allow us to ignore cherished rights

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category icon Columns, Opinion
Mike Gallagher

Last week on Veterans Day I was reading an assortment of newspaper articles, e-mails, and web site and social media posts about how important this day is for our country.

Veterans Day is important, of course, not only to thank the hundreds of thousands of veterans who made sacrifices to defend our country, but for all Americans to think about the freedom and liberties we enjoy, because of their sacrifices. The freedom and liberties that people in many countries will never know.

But on this particular Veterans Day, with flags flying in the brisk wind and sunshine, it occurred to me that our freedoms can at times be a double edged sword. As Americans we can pretty much say and write what we want, read any book, see any movie or play or listen to any music we wish.

And if we don’t like our elected officials we can either tear them down with words, or vote them out of office.

Yet our freedoms also allow us to neglect one of our most sacred privileges – voting. The chance to voice our opinion for or against a candidate, a ballot measure or an initiative is something people in other countries can only dream of.

Still we Americans blow off this opportunity so often it boggles the mind.

So it was this past Veterans Day with our freedoms, liberties and red, white and blue displayed and discussed so proudly throughout the day that I wondered why in the heck didn’t Camas, Washougal and citizens countywide get off their duffs the previous week and vote?

Why did only a little more than one-third of registered voters locally, 37.5 percent to be exact, care about local elections enough to vote? Why was Clark County second or third from the bottom of all Washington counties in voter turnout?

The reasons for this dismal turnout can and have been debated endlessly. But one thing voters and non-voters alike may have been saying is this. “We like things as they are. We like the people we have on city council now, so let them do their jobs. Our school board members are doing fine, leave them alone.”

And in Washougal they shouted loudly — “We don’t want a new form of city government, especially one that we don’t completely understand!”

The Washougal vote for Proposition 1 was one of many election results that I wasn’t surprised by at all. When voters don’t completely understand an issue, or if a really bad issue makes the ballot, you can pretty much bet the house that it will go down in flames.

So as ballots in many homes, including three in my own household, made it only as far as the recycling bin, I concluded that not voting in elections is getting to be almost as American as voting is. Perhaps not voting has become the year 2013 version of voting.

That’s not to take away anything from the victors in this last local election. For Sean Guard, Paul Greenlee, Dave Shoemaker and Brent Boger in Washougal and Melissa Smith, Steve Hogan and Shannon Turk in Camas, congratulations are in order. The same for school board members, Julie Rotz, Casey O’Dell in Camas and Blaine Peterson in Washougal. Kudos as well to fire district board members Victor Rasmussen and Martha Martin. With or without opponents, you have all been re-elected to serve your community.

As for me, I will just have to get used to the idea that if citizens want to ignore their cherished right to vote, that is their right. It’s the American way.

Mike Gallagher can be reached at