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Issue Date:  November 23, 2007

From the Editor's Desk

The obligation to vote

Our cover story this week addresses the upcoming presidential elections and the shifting landscape in the political arena. Unlike the last election, where lead candidates were on opposite sides of such issues as abortion and the gay lifestyle, today’s lead candidates are quite similar. Last election, some Catholic bishops made those distinctions the basis for deciding how to vote. What now as the lines get blurred? According to John L. Allen Jr., Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chair of the Committee on Doctrine, said, “One possibility is the extraordinary step of not voting. The other is to weight it, to see which candidate would be least likely to advance a morally flawed position and which one would be more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

To vote or not to vote? In a country such as ours, where only 55 percent of the voting-age population participated in the 2004 presidential election, any encouragement not to vote minimizes a privilege that deserves far more attention. Though voting is not a requirement in this country, mandatory voting laws were introduced in Australia in 1924, Belgium in 1892, Cyprus in 1960 and Switzerland (Schaffhausen canton) in 1904, as well as other countries around the world. The right to vote is really about one’s obligation as a participant in society -- rights also have responsibilities. Of course, many will argue that compulsory voting is not consistent with the values of a democracy and is not an intrinsic obligation of citizenship. Perhaps. But it does raise questions about what we in this country think about a human right that continues to be problematic in other countries. The crisis in Pakistan is one such example. President Pervez Musharraf has imposed martial law and suspended the constitution, making free and fair elections impossible.

When the Catholic hierarchy addresses voting responsibilities, it also addresses the mandates of Catholic social teaching and the common good -- the human person is sacred, but at the same time social. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris reminds us that “by nature [people] are meant to live with others and to work for one another’s welfare. A well-ordered human society requires that people recognize and observe their mutual rights and duties. It also demands that each contribute generously to the establishment of a civic order in which rights and duties are more sincerely and effectively acknowledged and fulfilled.”

Voting is one of the strongest moral obligations we have as citizens. As we observe another Thanksgiving Day in this country, the right to vote and its related rights such as freedom of speech, press, religion and other constitutional liberties protected by the Bill of Rights must be remembered. We have much to be grateful for in this country that ought not to be taken lightly. Elections are not easy decisions and require great forethought and balancing of the issues. Bishop Lori’s comment about the second option available for the upcoming elections is perhaps the better, if more difficult, option: “to weight it, to see which candidate would be least likely to advance a morally flawed position and which one would be more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

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Our offices will be closed during the four-day holiday weekend. May you enjoy a most blessed Thanksgiving Day.

-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2007

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