A Right, A Duty, A Privilege 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

In this anxious age of hype and hyperbole, of excess and extremes, of overkill and over-the-top, it’s often hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, when it sometimes seems that there’s nothing BUT chaff on the airwaves and in the daily papers.

Indeed, when columnists and commentators dub everything as “historic” or “legendary” or “amazing” or “unique” or “pivotal,” then is anything really historic or legendary or amazing or unique or pivotal?

And yet, with drawn breath, we ask that you seriously consider going to the polls this June 14th and voting in the primaries. The results will be important to the future of our Commonwealth. And calling them important is neither hype nor hyperbole.

Virginia is an open primary state, meaning that no one registers by party affiliation. Any registered voter can go to the polls on June 14th, or vote by absentee ballot in advance. You may vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but not in both, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent.

In addition to candidates running for their party’s nomination for statewide office, there are also candidates seeking party nominations for the House of Delegates, and for local offices like Board of Supervisors, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Treasurer and Sheriff.

There have likely never been as many complex issues facing the Commonwealth: state and local tax issues, road needs, urban and suburban sprawl, gang crime, school crowding, rural economic development, the future of family farming, rising health care costs, care for the elderly, the need for more hospitals, and higher education costs, to name but a few. And these issues are reaching critical mass at a time when it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep good people in office, and to get good people to run for public office, due to factors ranging from the high cost of campaigning to the negative glare of the media spotlight.

So to those brave, honorable souls who are willing to take on the difficulties of running for office, and the complex problems of governing when elected, we owe a strong turnout at the polls. You’ve likely read many essays and editorials over the years extolling the virtues of voting, so we thought the most effective endorsement for this exercise in democracy was to cull some thoughts on the subject from writers and thinkers from both the distant and recent past.

There are the tongue-in-cheek thoughts:


“Government is too big and important to be left to the politicians.”

Chester Bowles, 20th-century businessman & diplomat


“Did you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?”

Robert Orben, 20th-century speechwriter, comedy writer & magician

 “One of the evils of democracy is, you have to put up with the man you elect, whether you want him or not.”

Will Rogers, early 20th-century folk humorist & entertainer


And, of course, the sad-but-true observations:


“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, 20th-century American theologian & author

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin, 18th-century journalist, scientist, inventor, philosopher, statesman & Founding Father


“People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote — a very different thing.”

Walter H. Judd, 20th-century medical missionary, Congressman, editor & radio commentator


Then, of course, there are the inspirational and stirring odes to the democratic system:


“That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President, frontier lawyer & orator


“The progress of democracy seems irresistible, because it is the most uniform, the most ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be found in history.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century French political thinker, historian & author of    Democracy in America


And finally,  there are the razor-sharp reasons why every American should take part in electing his or her representative, closing with the thoughts of a great Virginian:


“Of the many things we have done to democracy in the past, the worst has been the indignity of taking it for granted.”

Max Lerner, 20th-century author, newspaper columnist & coiner of the term “McCarthyism”


“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.”

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd U.S. President, Founding Father, statesman, philosopher, 

inventor, architect, farmer & founder of University of Virginia


So, please, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, get involved in the critical issues facing our Commonwealth. A great place to start, or continue, that involvement is to go to the polls on June 14th and vote. The State Board of Elections has an outstanding Web site that you can visit for more information on voter registration, absentee voting, and the candidates in the June 14th primaries. Go to www.sbe.virginia.gov.

Voting is more than just a right; it’s a sacred duty and a tremendous privilege that is strengthened when free men and women exercise it, and cheapened when we don’t.


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