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What About This . . .? By Wayne William Cipriano

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the great American showman P.T. Barnum’s advice for success: Give the People What They Want. He was giving business advice I suppose, but it applies to many other walks of life. And it is simple. Too simple?

Just because something is desired doesn’t automatically mean it’s good, does it? Even if a whole lot of people want it? And giving the people all they want, with no thought as to how that is going to work out for them, seems like the basis of a long moral discussion.

Who decides what the people want? Pollsters? Seers? Vote counters? And who decides if what they want is “good” for the people? Welcome to Philosophy 101: The Ethics of Everyday Life, and the conversations that have lasted for thousands of years.

The argument that people ought to be able to choose what is “right” for each of them individually is every bit as strong as the one which suggests that what most people want is the “right” thing to do for all of them. We abide by the social contract that seeks to protect our individual freedoms to some extent while protecting us from the dangers we may face when others exercise their free wills with no thoughts or care as to how that may affect us.

Which of us has not chafed under the load a “civilized society” has placed on us as members? And do we, at those times, think of the benefits and the protection we derive from that civilized society? I think it is much easier to recognize how our freedoms are being curtailed than to realize how much better off we are when societal contracts operate.

Doubt that, do you? Feel society doesn’t do that much for you while spending a lot of time keeping you from what you want to do? Consider for a moment what life is like in places where the institutions and authorities we support via the social contract have slipped away or never existed. It’s not that hard. War-torn environs, natural settings devoid of humans, and the like, place us here and we are suddenly and completely on our own, or, if we are lucky, in the company of others who see life as we do – and therefore engender a social contract of sorts providing safety and comfort until that vision diverges.

We take for granted, in a country as free as our own, how good we have it, and seldom realize that the freedom to complain and reorder the social contract is one of the strongest factors of it. Sure, we sacrifice a great deal of personal freedom for those benefits. We have drawn a line.

It is that line that we need to examine. How long should it last? Where does it lie? Is it the same for everyone? Should it be? Can that line be “adjusted” for some? For all? When?

These, and questions like them, are the ones that continually draw our attention to the contract. We answer them by our own conduct and that of our families. We answer when we choose our moral leaders and when we evaluate the direction we receive from them. We answer when we infuse persons with power to make rules regarding our behavior and determine punishments when we ignore those rules. And we even sit in judgment to ignore the punishments that were prescribed because we ignored the rules.

We always have the options of standing against the social contract by rebelling against it or simply by absenting ourselves from where it is being offered. But, more constructively, I would say, is to address the social contract by interacting with others operating within it and discussing why and how it should be modified. From church socials, to school board meetings, to national elections, we have many opportunities to examine, address, and modify the social contract. 

What sort of changes would you make?

You may have noticed that we had an election recently. From what I heard, far more voters turned out to make their voices heard than you would expect, this being an “off” election. Since we weren’t voting for President and Vice President, the only time the entire country speaks as one to select leaders, it was a pleasant surprise that so many showed up.

Part of the reason for so many voters has to be all the “reminders” we got from television, radio, Internet, the mail, family, friends, neighbors, complete strangers at the bus stop, and, of course, those incessant robo calls from so many political characters.

There were some contests that continued for days (weeks?) after the polls closed and that seemed to upset a lot of us. But, if all legitimate votes are to be counted, who can complain if a few extra hours, or days, or even weeks are required to determine exactly what the voters said?

Yes, that pesky word “legitimate” did tend to raise its head in several elections and the closer the votes were, the more discussion there was. The rules deciding legitimacy are made, as you know, by each state for its citizens – you can check the Constitution – and they vary somewhat. And while there is some flexibility taken by states as to who can vote and under what conditions (where, when, etc.) But these differing rules never add up to much if they are aimed at getting as many citizens as possible to vote, and then counting those votes accurately.

I am justifiably proud that we in Douglas County are not plagued by the nonsense we saw elsewhere. All the stuff of elections, the proper form and number of ballots, the voting venues, the poll watchers, the collection, protection, and accurate count of the votes, and all the hundred and one things necessary for a proper election are taken care of by our local election officials. From the least understood local office or question to the President of the United States of America, these are all decided by our votes, which are taken and reported by our County Clerk and her associates. We pay some of them and others are volunteers. And all have deeply held political views, biases, and druthers, and none of those views have any effect on the elections they oversee.

Sure, the number of voters here is relatively small, but every voting location has personnel and resources equal to their tasks or should be loudly and continually complaining until they do. And if large precincts or venues take a little longer to report accurately, so what? All newly elected candidates do not report for duty for quite a while after the elections take place, the interval depends on the office, but there is always plenty of time. So, what’s the rush?

Why can’t we wait for a final, correct count? Why do we have to have the count within an hour of the polls closing? Are we afraid that the longer the count goes on, the less accurate it will be? Really?

I believe, and I hope you agree, that if we took longer to report results, we’d be better off. What if states mandated that no results were shared until all polling places across the nation were closed, and all votes, including absentee, early, provisional and so on, were counted?

The massively unreasonable deadlines placed on election officials puts too much pressure on them and tends to spark unnecessary controversies that are detrimental to our election processes. What’s the rush?

Yes, I agree that some deadline for election results reporting has to exist to motivate some election officials not as energetic and committed as are ours in Douglas County, but why so quick? When most venues had a hundred voters or so, that quick reporting was no problem. But today, many venues have thousands of voters and lots of those other ballots (early, absentee, provisional, etc.) to deal with. Why put them under such unreasonable pressure that begs for mistakes to be made? What’s the rush?

There is plenty of time between election days and the time elected candidates take office. All candidates should prepare for victory, even if, as we have seen, some may be told by their pollsters that they have little chance to gain the office. What’s the rush?

Are we children gathered around the base of an election Christmas tree on the 24th gazing upon the many wrapped gifts, unable to resist tearing off the ribbons and paper? Grow up. What’s the rush?