In today’s Opinion section we are featuring guest opinions authored by three longtime Idahoans who share an identical wish: that as many people as possible will get educated, get active, and get out and vote in the May 17 primary and the November general election.
Because early voting already has begun in Canyon County, we know some of you already have cast ballots, and many more are about to fill out absentee forms.
Our authors are happy about those who are already in the game, but I know the real audience they target is those of you in the stands — those who, at the moment, don’t see the point and doubt they will go to the trouble to vote this year.
There was a time when all of our authors were among that group “not yet engaged” to their civic duty or wed to a political point of view.
Former Idaho Rep. Larry LaRocco, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1991-1995), describes how he had his political and civic awakening back in 1974. Though he chose the Democratic Party to launch his activism and public service, I know from my conversations with him that his biggest concerns are the extreme wings of both parties, which sometimes focus on ideology and lose sight of what is best for Idaho.
William Myers, a Boise attorney and a community member of the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board, points out that sitting on the sidelines during this election would be missing out on one of the most intriguing, competitive and contentious political periods in recent history. His mantra: “Voters gotta vote!”
Retired Ada County District Court Judge Mike Wetherell, another community member of the board, recalls an opportunity he took to pursue a political internship years ago that changed the direction of his life.
My message for those seeking motivation to vote in 2016 is to take the next opportunity to attend a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens. They occur often at Boise’s U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services field office and elsewhere throughout the country. More than 700,000 new citizens were sworn in nationwide in 2015 — nearly 1,500 in Idaho, according to a Boise Public Radio report on a January, 2016, naturalization ceremony in Boise.
I know from having witnessed ceremonies in other states that the No. 1 thing our new citizens look forward to is casting their first vote. For many the voting opportunities in 2016 will be their first chance to carry out what most of them see as a privilege and responsibility.
What do these new citizens know that we don’t — or, perhaps have forgotten or lost the context for? That sacred civic duty that our ancestors, family members and neighbors have shed blood for over the centuries?
The takeaway for me: I don’t ever want to lose the passion that lives in the eyes of the new citizens or the conviction so apparent among the authors of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I hope you don’t, either. Seek out new citizens and allow them to breathe the life of democracy all around you. Inhale. Ask them what voting for the first time means to them. Be advised that the conversation could produce the unintended consequence of a newly invigorated civic path.
Let’s vote in 2016, Idaho.
Next week on the Sunday Opinion pages we’ll be hearing from authors who, relatively speaking, are just getting started on their civic paths. If you have an opinion about voting, send us a letter or leave a comment at the bottom of this column.