Monday, October 22nd is the last day to register to vote in the upcoming November election. And if you’re still one of the people who doesn’t know why you should vote, then here are a few reasons.
In his 1967 Inauguration speech Governor Ronald Reagan spoke to Californians about the miracle of transferring power by way of the electoral process. Reagan was a Republican newcomer to politics who succeeded the wildly popular Governor Pat Brown and would himself be succeeded by another Brown Democrat – Pat’s son Jerry. Reflecting on this process of transition, Reagan reminded us that “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation...” Truer words haven't been spoken. But the term “freedom” has become such an inseparable part of our American identity and values for so many years that many people take it for granted.
We associate the image of defending freedom most often with the men and women in our military and to a lesser extent with our role on the home front in support of their braver service. Yet there’s something that we all can do to ensure that the perpetuity of freedom for all Americans is certain for the generations to come. How? By being an active participant in the upcoming November General Election.
Voting is what supports the foundation of our democratic system of self-governance. It is what our founders fought for and many who came after have struggled to achieve since our country’s birth. From women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, this most basic right – the freedom to express your opinion on the future of America – has been passed down to our generation through struggle and sacrifice. It is for us to preserve and pass on to the next generation. But the statistics show a disappointing trend. Most of us may talk the talk when it comes to platitudes about patriotic duty. But according to the California Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.ca.gov) less than half of the eligible voting population voted in our last two statewide elections. The June 5 Primary was especially disappointing as the turnout was an anemic 16.3%.
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa thanks to the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) and the U.S. Department of State. It was a particularly meaningful trip because I remember so vividly watching the news daily when I was a high school student as apartheid was brought to an end and Nelson Mandella was released from prison. Who could forget watching the mile long lines of black South Africans who waited for hours under the sun for their first opportunity to vote in the first free elections in that nation’s history. To this day I keep a framed copy of that historic election in my office at city hall as a reminder of determination of people to exercise their freedom to chose their own destiny. Mandella was elected President in that election and today South Africa is truly the rainbow nation with everyone participating in building that country’s future.
During our visit we met with many college students and young professionals who were preparing to vote in their first election. Most of them were part of the Born-Free generation – young South Africans who were born after the end of Apartheid and were never victims of the racist policies of past. You would think that perhaps this generation of South Africans is less passionate about voting than their predecessors. But this was not the case. Every person I spoke to was excited about voting and regarded it as their most important civic responsibility. One student said that voting is as much a duty as it is a way of showing their respect to those who fought so hard for many years to end Apartheid. And although the Born-Free voters do not have to fight for their right to vote, they have other reasons to go to the polls – poor education system, substandard housing, stagnant economy, and high unemployment.
My trip to S. Africa was a good reminder that there are many reasons to vote and they vary for each person. But there isn’t a single reason why we shouldn’t. We hear a lot about freedom not being free when the truth is that it doesn’t cost a penny. All it takes is to register and then vote on Election Day. And by doing so and encouraging our friends, family and colleagues to do the same, we make sure freedom remains free. When we don’t participate in this civic sacrament, we raise the price of freedom for the next generation.
Remember that Monday, October 22nd is the last day to register. Vote-by-mail ballots are already being sent out to anyone who wants to vote early and from home. You can request one online from the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters at www.LAVote.net. Otherwise, mark your calendars for November 6, 2012 when polls around our great country will be open from 7 AM to 8 PM. Do your part to defend our freedom to choose. Register and vote!
Ardashes “Ardy” Kassakhian, CMC