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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Nov. 1, 201810:03 AM EST

From the President: Go vote, it's your civic duty

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Don’t let apathy or cynicism keep you from the polls.
JBA President Katie Dearing

By Katie Dearing, JBA President

Election Day, Tuesday, is only a few days away. Soon the ads will stop, the signs will come down, the vitriol will slide back to its post-2016 new normal and the postmortem will begin over whether the pundits were right or wrong.

We slip back into our routines so easily that we can now predict even the post-election commentary, whatever the results may be.

In this mindset, there is a danger that we will substitute cynicism for civic engagement; that we will think our votes don’t matter, so why bother?

It seems many of our fellow citizens have reached that conclusion.

In the August 2018 primary, fewer than one-third of our registered voters exercised this fundamental, quintessentially American right. (Clay County, 27 percent; Duval, 28 percent; Nassau, 31 percent).

That’s not good enough, not nearly good enough for a country founded on the right to choose its leaders.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He understood that apathy is the enemy of democracy. The antidote is, of course, participation.

Florida provides many ways to participate in this most important civic exercise. I like to cast my ballot on Election Day to join my fellow citizens waiting in line to make our voices heard. We take our kids to show them the import and solemn responsibility of casting a ballot.

But for many people, that option is neither practical nor available. Thankfully, Florida offers its citizens a variety of methods and times to vote, including absentee ballots and early voting.

As I write this column, early voting is underway. According to news reports, turnout seems higher than expected, which likely is attributable to the many important races on the ballot.

Between the governor’s race, a U.S. Senate seat, the cabinet, Legislature and constitutional amendments, there is a lot to digest and about which to be informed.

Reviewing my sample ballot (which I absolutely will be taking with me to the polls), in Duval County we will be voting on 18 candidate choices, 12 constitutional amendments and a straw ballot poll (as if we don’t have enough to vote on, now we’re practicing our vote on a future issue).

Voters may be, understandably, intimidated and overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices to make. 

Do not be deterred. Do not allow others to be deterred.

There are many available resources detailing candidate positions on issues and explaining those proposed amendments. Many newspapers have offered pros and cons about each amendment. Look at several and be informed when you vote.  

But more important than knowing what’s on the ballot, or when and how to vote, we must remember why we vote. 

Voting is our civic duty, both a right and a privilege. No other country on Earth offers its citizens a government of, by, and for the people in the way that America does.

At last month’s naturalization ceremony, I watched new citizens from 30 different countries, many of which are ruled by dictators and tyrants, earn the right to vote, the right to choose for themselves the laws under which they will live and the people by whom they will be governed.

They understand the unique opportunity and privilege inherent in the right to vote, perhaps in a way the cynics among us have forgotten.

The new citizens, like our founding fathers, understand that voting is more than casting a ballot; it is the essential part of American democracy. It is raising your voice to say “yes” to better opportunities for your family, to have a say in policy decisions affecting your life and the lives of your neighbors, to help set the course for our state and nation for years to come.

But most importantly, we owe it to many brave men and women, who gave the last full measure of devotion securing this right, not to throw it away.  

Go vote.

Katie Dearing is President of the JBA Board and judge-elect for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

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