No excuse for failing to vote

There were gratifyingly high, sometimes record-setting turnouts Tuesday at voting stations here and around the nation, but that's only half the story. Any good feeling about the high number of citizens who took the time to fulfill their most important civic duty has to be tempered by the knowledge that there were still many -- far too many -- Americans who were eligible to vote but chose not to do so.

The excuses were many, but most were flimsy. Perhaps the most common was that there was no real difference between the candidates, and that whichever man and party won the election would make little variation in the life of a prospective voter. That, of course, is not true.

There are always differences between candidates seeking the same office , whether it be president, U.S. senator, state senator or city commissioner. Most men and women who seek election are not self-serving. They sincerely want to make what they view as positive changes in government and in constituents' lives. The difference is that opposing candidates choose radically different paths to reach that common goal.

It is up to the voter to discern those differences and then act on them at the ballot box.

Others who choose not to vote say that they don't have the time or that voting is inconvenient. Nonsense. Contemporary voters, unlike those of earlier generations, are not bound by specific time and place. Almost every jurisdiction allows early voting or the use of an absentee ballot. Lack of time and convenience are limp excuses. Those who care about government and country surely can find a way to vote.

Still other laggards say that the local, state and national issues related to the election are too complex for them to make a sound decision. That's poppycock as well. Even the most convoluted issues are discussed by stalwarts of both parties and by more objective commentators and analysts in the mass and electronic media. The problem, then, is not the knottiness of the issues, but an individual's unwillingness to take time to properly study them.

Perhaps the most flawed of the excuses from non-voters is the belief that their vote -- just one among very many -- has no meaning. The truth is that a single vote lets those who seek and hold office know precisely how we feel on issues of the day as well as on policies that affect our future. More important still is that every vote cast is an unmistakable affirmation of American democracy.

Those who choose not to vote seem to have little trouble finding an excuse for their negligence. Indeed, those who have the vote and fail to exercise it fail to fulfill the most important duty of citizenship. The failure to vote also should strip them of the right to gripe about the outcome of an election in which they chose not to participate. Constitutional guarantees of free speech, however, make that a hard rule to implement.