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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/BEN GOFF A line of voters snakes around the block. - Photo by Ben Goff

With New Year's Day in the rear-view mirror, we're officially in an election year.

Well, every year is an election year of some kind, what with the occasional special election, votes for school board members and the like. But even-numbered years get us congressional and legislative races as well as local races for city council and quorum court races. That means some of our neighbors will ask for that precious commodity known as our votes. Hopefully, we'll make time to cast them.

Well, some of us. Naturally, one has to be registered with his county clerk to be eligible to cast a ballot. I still believe anyone older than 18 should be registered to vote and should vote at every opportunity. Sure, it's rare when only one vote swings an election one way or the other, but dreams of being the solitary difference-maker shouldn't be our only motivation to participate in our democracy.

Knowing we're going to vote on something tends to motivate us to pay a bit more attention to public policy matters, sort of like how high school and university students often try to discern what specific lessons will be reflected on a test they can concentrate on those topics.

There have from time to time been calls for voting in the United States to be mandatory, similar to the way it's been in Australia for nearly 100 years. The argument is a mandate turns elections into events that build community through a common experience and gets a truer sense of what the public wants. Then again, it's kind of hard to sing about the United States as the land of the free if the most fundamental responsibility of citizens is done through force.

I'm a bit of a ballot box snob when I cast my ballot here in Northwest Arkansas. If someone chooses not to be self-motivated to participate in our community's most basic function of citizenship, it's not anyone else's job to push them toward involvement. Encourage? Sure, but if they won't get off their duffs to at least attempt to influence the outcome, I'm fine with my vote counting more than their opinions.

That comes from a college-educated (yes, really) guy who doesn't recall facing any barriers to voting since I first registered after I turned 18 in Little Rock, where I grew up. Take a quick look at the smiling face at the top of this column and you might note I'm no minority, and while I didn't grow up affluent, my working parents also made sure our lives were always on an upward economic trajectory. They believed in voting and made sure they took me -- and my two brothers before me -- into the old-style voting machines that had the huge red lever that opened and closed the curtain as well as registering the votes from the flip-down levers.

Man, I wish we still had those big-box voting machines, if only to impress young minds as to what's going on.

Not everyone has that kind of parental guidance, though. Not everyone gets the kind of encouragement that leads to lifelong civic engagement. Not everyone has had the same educational opportunities and professional experiences that provide insights into ballot questions and candidates.

So, yes, there's a social responsibility, too, for making sure all Americans are provided opportunities to vote, to be a part of their community. But we don't force people to attend city council meetings or to even know who their mayor is. We shouldn't force them to vote, either.

For those who plan to vote, it's time to really start paying attention. For a few months now, our pages have featured the occasional announcements of people's intentions to run for office. Filing period, however, doesn't start for most offices until Feb. 22 and lasts until March 1. For most city (nonpartisan) offices, filing period will be in late July and the first half of August.

People generally have to be registered to vote at least a month before an election. If you're not registered, you can't vote. If you do, your vote will not be counted and, if you fall into a demographic unlikely to vote Republican, you might end up on President Trump's most-wanted list.

Commentary on 01/15/2018

Print Headline: Vote often

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