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updated: 3/15/2012 7:17 AM

Voting is 'Plan Only,' and we have duty to help

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In general, I don't reply or post comments to stories at dailyherald.com. I don't like to intrude on what is intended as an open forum for the broader community. But this comment on our Wednesday editorial is so timely and provocative and so relevant to the newspaper's mission that I can't help but share some thoughts. Here's the gist from Dan65:

"Let's see if I can summarize in one sentence the message of this editorial: 'There may be a problem with the 500+ units of local government in the county of Cook, but the solution is greater citizen involvement to enhance public accountability.'

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"One little problem with this solution: Voter turnout in last year's local election averaged 15 percent across the suburbs. So 85 percent of registered voters didn't bother.

"Voter turnout has been declining for years, and there's no indication of a major turnaround -- no matter how many earnest editorials lecture us to be active citizens holding local officials accountable.

"Since Plan A isn't credible, what's Plan B?"

If I read Dan65 correctly, he's saying that most people aren't going to vote, so there's no sense writing editorials exhorting them to, and you can't deny he has a point. I've often said to myself that in an American-style democracy, people get the government they deserve, so if, to use Dan65's figures, 85 percent want to sit at home and let 15 percent determine how much they pay in taxes, what they pay for, where roads will be built and when and with whom their nation will go to war, so be it.

But my heart won't let me settle for that reasoning and, more important, a newspaper that is committed to its community and its democracy can never acquiesce to such cynicism. One of our goals is to help you be more engaged -- in terms of both information and passion -- in the operation of your government, from the hallways of your local school to the halls of Congress. To concede that any citizen's participation is dispensable or not valuable is to ignore a fundamental tenet both of our mission and of our country.

Actually, the point of Wednesday's editorial -- at least our intent -- went Dan65 one better. Responding to an analysis of Cook County tax revenues, we wanted readers to dig beyond our own headlines. We wanted to show that there is much more to understanding property taxes than to acknowledge out-of-context the fact that revenues increased by nearly 50 percent in the first decade of the century. When you recognize that, we reasoned, the real driver of property tax revenues becomes evident -- you, the citizen, the voter.

Will our "earnest editorial" get one or two of you 85 percenters to learn more and vote who wouldn't otherwise have bothered? Will it spur one of you 15 percenters who may have based a future vote on a sensational "50 percent increase" headline to look more carefully before you go to the polls? We have to hope so.

Next Tuesday, you'll have the opportunity to participate in critical decisions about your taxes, your leadership, heck, even your electric rates. It's important to the future of your community that you know that, and that you contribute to whatever decision ultimately is made, and it's important that you put some education, passion and thought into that contribution. Encouraging you in the process is one of our most important, you might even say most sacred, responsibilities.

For the fact is, in a democracy, voting is indeed Plan A, as Dan65 points out, but there is no Plan B, nor can there be any Plan B that doesn't undermine the power of the people at the polls.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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