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Celebrate the Constitution

America celebrates its 238th birthday this Independence Day weekend. There will be fireworks, picnics, parades, concerts, speeches, flags and more across the country. Not many people will be thinking about the founding fathers as they grill hot dogs and eat potato salad. That’s a shame. We could use a healthy dose of what the fathers did in 1776—declared themselves independent and set about creating a new nation.

It is peculiar that the anniversary of our Constitution doesn’t receive the same reverence and hoopla the country’s birthday does. From 1776 to 1787 America was a collection of 13 colonies acting as a nation but able to coin their own money and make their own treaties. It is the Constitution that forged a new nation complete with laws, three branches of government with checks and balances codified.

America is a democratic republic—we freely elect people to represent us at the federal, state and local levels. Some of our national leaders have endeavored to transport our style of democracy to other parts of the globe.

Americans have rights that the Constitution gave them. These rights have been modified over the decades by the courts but essentially we enjoy free speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms and others. Americans should remember that they have the freedom to vote in elections for candidates or ballot measures—some say that leaving some of the largest issues of our day should be decided by a national plebiscite.

We have that already, in a way. In every election voters are choosing not just among candidates but also opting for the candidates that reflect their own personal views on the big issues the nation faces. Whatever one’s views on guns, abortion, immigration or taxes, they can find a candidate who agrees with them.

That’s why it is disheartening that voter turnout has been lackluster for decades. The American people can have the government they want; they just have to vote. But more than vote, people need to have some sense of where a candidate stands. Campaigns count on the fact that most voters won’t have intimate knowledge of issues and can be easily swayed with splashy advertising.

Presidential elections in the early years of America were much more vociferious and dirty than anything one sees today; but, those campaigns gave us such presidents as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Andrew Jackson—titans in our political history.

American people have always been partisan, but the climate in which we live is poisonous to the process. Approval of Congress polls at all time lows, very little legislation is getting passed. The divisiveness clouds every piece of major legislation, the people feel they have no hand in the matter. The lament that it doesn’t matter who is in office because it is always the same carries the day as the percentage of voters drops election by election.

From the very beginning American history has been the story of battling ideas and ideologies. Even the Constitution is up for debate: is it a living document or a static document that can only be viewed through the intentions of our founding fathers. Recent Supreme Court decisions enrage some demographics while others cheer.

Therein lies the beauty of the Constitution itself: checks and balances between the three branches of government. If you don’t like a judicial decision your recourse is the ballot box. On the state and local level most judges stand for election; if enough voters oppose a judge’s decision they can vote them out. On federal benches, where judges are appointed for life, the recourse is to chose a president who will appoint different types of jurists.

Everything comes back to the ballot box. We elect people to represent our interests. It is up to the people to decide who is best to do that. Multi-million dollar campaigns with lots of bells and whistles can confuse voters; oft times important issues are shunted to the side as candidate character becomes the focus. Character is easier to define than stands on complex issues. A democracy doesn’t fully work if a large percentage of the populace take themselves out of the process by not voting due to frustation or apathy.

The direction of all governments on every level is set by those who exercise their constituional right to make their voice heard via the election ballot.

Being an election year, 2014 gives Oregonians the opportunity to make their voices heard in a U.S. Senate race as well as election for governor and 75 state legislators. Here in Keizer voters will elect a new mayor and three new city councilors. No state makes voting as easy as Oregon with its mail-in ballot system. That should make Oregon the state with the highest voter turnout in the nation, but it doesn’t turn out that way. We should use technology’s advances to allow voting by Internet. Recent health care computer disasters notwithstanding, our future depends on having the highest number of citizens engaged in the political process.

The Declaration of Independence created a new nation. The Constituion gave that nation form and function. The United States of America has stood for 238 years. There is no reason it can’t stand for 238 more.