In less than two months the 2004 presidential election will be upon us. Two more months of wearying mud-flinging and rhetorical promises stand between then and now. I only hope I can make it.

I can't even glance at a newspaper or turn on the television without being bombarded by "Cheney attacks Kerry," "Kerry berates Bush," "Republicans concoct scathing rumors about Democrats," "Democrats howl like unhappy banshees about Cheney's attack on Kerry," and so on and so forth.

My God. What is this - adult politics or toddler temper-tantrums?

In front of my eyes politics, and the intelligent debates and platforms that should accompany politicians, have devolved into mindless, testosterone-charged sporting events. The purported leader of our country and his arch-rival seem to be standing in the middle of a field screaming trash-talk at each other and just barely refraining from blows. Meanwhile, American citizens line the field and pack the stands, throwing garbage and attacking their opponent's supporters. Eventually all structure will collapse and everyone will be reduced to violence and swear words.

Well, so it goes.

In a perfect world, democracy would stand strong and people wouldn't be part of political parties - they would choose their candidates for the values and issues each held important. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect, more middling to bad than anything else. Instead of even having the slightest clue about what a politician's platforms are, many citizens put themselves into party categories and stick there like glue. I know certain Republicans who don't approve of what Bush is doing with Iraq or the economy or abortion. But they still vote for him because he is "on their side," which means that because they are all Republicans, they must band together, whether they agree with his policies or not.

This is not democracy, this is not what America is all about!

Democracy, as you may well know, is a form of government in which the people hold the power and exercise that power through a system of representation and voting. (Democracy is also defined as having an absence of hereditary and arbitrary class distinctions or privileges, but don't tell that to the president. It would break his little, corporate heart.)

The soul of this country is rooted in democracy, and democracy is rooted in the ability of the people to elect their candidates based on policies and to "fire" leaders who aren't doing their jobs. However, democracy seems to be floundering. Many people aren't voting for leaders based on policies, but instead voting for whoever happens to be on their team - good or bad. And, as the brick that broke democracy's back, a large number of Americans aren't voting at all.

Before I tell you why voting is important, let me tell you a little tale about the history our government system.

History of governmentThe Roman Empire was the first government to employ democracy, back around 509 B.C. After a revolution against a monarchical government, a republic was set up, with a senate and all sorts of other positions for leaders to hold. The goal of this was that no one person could have too much power.

However, the Roman Republic was never really a democracy, because there was a "client system" in place. A "client" was a loyal supporter of a powerful Roman family. In return, the patron of the client could reward or punish him. Clients were required to support that family in everything they did, especially when they ran for political offices. At elections, it is thought that people voted exclusively along family loyalty lines.

Eventually, Rome set up a standing military and traveled far and wide to expand their empire. Because the politicians were so involved with the swelling empire, they neglected to tend to the food shortages, employment shortages, homelessness and other sorts of chaos that abounded in Rome. Eventually, the senate stopped running elections, an emperor took absolute control and democracy was no more - not to be tampered with again until the late 1700s, when America tried it on for size.

Rights of democracyDemocracy has its perks. Believe me, there is nothing I like more than my right to free speech, the authority to practice any religion and to print these words in the press. I appreciate that I would enjoy the right to a speedy and fair trial, should I ever have to have a trial, and I love that I cannot be forced into involuntary servitude.

But my absolute favorite part of living in this democratic nation is simple. I relish and revere my right to vote.

When November comes around, I appreciate the fact that I have the right to cast my ballot. And cast it I will, with fervor.

But apparently, there are a number of citizens, both men and women, in this country who won't follow suit.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report on voting and registration in the 2000 presidential election, 186 million people were eligible to vote (meaning they were older than 18 and citizens of the United States) but only 130 million were registered. Of those 130 million, only 111 million voted.

It gets worse.

In 2002, during the congressional elections, of the 193 million people eligible to vote, only 128 million were registered and a mere 89 million voted. Forty-six percent of the eligible U.S. population voted. Less than half.

Voting is patrioticWhen reading statistics like these, I wonder what people are talking about when they are extolling themselves as "patriotic" citizens? How, exactly, are nonvoting citizens "patriotic" when they aren't even performing the single, most-important duty of their citizenship?

By voting, you are hiring or firing elected leaders who are supposed to be working for you. You can cancel out the vote of someone you don't agree with and actively make the world a better place for you or your children or grandchildren or whoever will be shouldering the brunt of policy decisions.

If people who are capable of voting don't vote, they are allowing someone else to make decisions for them. Essentially, they are letting the minority rule.

What Americans need to do is extract themselves from political parties and base their votes on issues that are important to them. If you don't want the country to go to war, vote for the guy least likely to go to war. If you want cheaper health care, then by all means vote for the guy most inclined to create it. If you don't believe in one issue or another, then make the intelligent choice and vote for the corresponding politician. Don't make your decisions as if you are supporting a sports team. Otherwise you are simply giving politicians more power to ignore the people. By not voting, you are allowing politicians to choose a dictator that makes decisions that benefit him and his cronies.

I won't cry doomsday and go on about how America's democratic government is crumbling, but I do know that people need to become more involved and concerned with how their government is run.

This is your country. If you want to be patriotic or support the troops currently fighting overseas, then appreciate the freedoms available to you. Vote. Vote for what's important to you and vote for the enduring power of our democratic nation.

Lacey B. Hoyer is a senior at the University of Oregon and will be graduating with a degree in journalism.

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