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Ward/My Turn: Use your voting voice

Picture yourself in a room, with 30 people, and you need to make a critical decision that will impact the way you live. Some of these people you have met before. They might be friends, neighbors or just folks you run into day-to- day in the community; and some of these people are complete strangers. You have no idea how they behave or what they value.

The group is diverse. Some young, some old; some women, some men; some outspoken, some quiet. You recognize a neighbor. You know he or she has similar thoughts and values as yours because you talk from time to time. You barbecue together and borrow each other’s tools.

When it comes time to make the decision, your neighbor neglects to voice his or her opinion. In fact, only five of the 30 people vote. Not even 20 percent. You voted, but only one other person voted with you. Three people voted against you. Twenty-five people did not vote. For the next several years, you will live with this decision.

To give this hypothetical situation some meat, we can sink our teeth into, let’s say, for example, the decision was made not to grant equal pay for equal work. In other words, a person who has performed exactly the same work as someone else, for exactly the same amount of time, may get paid less for whatever reason, maybe age, sex, race or religious beliefs.

You may say, “That is crazy! Who would allow that?” Some people do. Three people did. Now 30 people live with it. They live with the possibility of getting paid less to perform equal work because they are older, or younger, male or female.

You ask your neighbor friend what he or she thinks, and they respond by saying, “I didn’t vote. I honestly did not think I needed to. I just figured we would choose equal pay.”

As time passes and pay rates fluctuate, you hear grumbling from others. People are not happy doing the same job as someone else, but making less money. “I have been here just as long as, even longer than some, but I make half of what they do because I am over 50 (years old),” bemoans one individual.

“We all started together and help build a business, but being the only woman, I can only assume my pay is less because I am female,” states another.

You ask, “Did you vote for equal pay?” They respond with half-hearted conviction, “No. I have never felt like my one vote would make a difference.”

How many of the 30 people also wanted equal pay for equal work? We already know if the few we spoke to had voiced their opinions when it counted, there would be equal pay today.

This may seem unbelievable, but it happens. It happens all the time. People with a voice do not use it and they are left unheard while living under the direction of the roughly 15 percent that did speak up.

I ran for a position on the Town Council in 2011. Less than 20 percent of our voters turned out to cast their ballots and voice their opinion. I lost to Mark Wisnewski by 14 votes. I personally know 14 people who didn’t vote. At that time I was furious. I asked people why they did not vote. They said they figured I had it in the bag and I did not need their vote, or they said they have lost faith in politics and wanted nothing to do with it, or they just forgot.

I learned a lot from that election. I learned the value of voting. I learned there may be nothing more important than taking a little bit of time to research candidates and cast a vote. In many cases, these people and their families are donating their time and money to make their towns a great place for all.

For those of us not running for an office, the least we can do is show these people we appreciate them and value our community by showing up on Election Day and voicing our opinion. It is important for everyone to know what we want and unless we all vote, we may end up living with the wants of a very small percentage of the whole. That can be a frustrating fact. I quote Thomas Jefferson, “The government you elect is government you deserve.”

Cameron Ward lives in Greenfield.

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