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Half, or more, of the people eligible to vote on Nov. 5 will not. For whatever reason, Americans stay away from the ballot box in droves. Last week’s column, “Why your vote doesn’t matter,” drew many responses from people who agreed and said they have simply given up.

We can’t give up. Ever!

Last week’s column revealed how clever people have succeeded in removing the power of our vote. Our task now is to remove the barriers to freedom they have carefully constructed. This task begins at the ballot box.

This country is nearly evenly divided between people who believe that government should control and manage the affairs of its citizens, and people who believe that the purpose of government is to protect the freedom of individual citizens to manage their own affairs.

Members of the first group are usually identified as “liberals” or “socialists,” and are often associated with the Democratic Party, the Green Party and others. Members of the second group, referred to as “conservatives,” often are associated with the Republican Party and other groups. Party affiliation, however, is not a sure-fire indicator of political philosophy. That’s why it is essential that voters know how their candidates feel about specific issues.

If you believe that judges should “construe the law liberally,” as the New Jersey judges did when they allowed the Democrats to replace Torricelli on the ballot – well after the 51-day deadline clearly stated in the law – then you will probably vote for liberal candidates.

If you believe that judges should apply the law as it is written, rather than “construe” the law, then you will probably vote for conservative candidates.

Our challenge is to know the difference between the candidates for whom we can vote. Party label is not necessarily a reliable guide. The New Jersey judges voted unanimously, but were appointed by both Democrat and Republican governors.

If we vote, we have standing and have every right to hold our representatives accountable. If we fail to vote, we deserve what we get.

Voting, though, is just the beginning. We need to be involved in the process of government. The best way to amplify our effectiveness is to join other, like-minded people in local organizations. Take Back Kentucky is an organization that has been especially effective at the local and state levels in stopping legislation designed to advance comprehensive land-use planning. They have secured legislation to protect private-property rights. They have been successful because they amplified the voices of individuals thorough coordinated action.

The Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club, among many others, have been most successful promoting local, state and federal policy through their coordinated action. They have become so sophisticated that they secure federal grants to pay staff to attend the endless meetings at which policy is developed.

In the last two years, the Nature Conservancy has received at least nine federal grants, totaling nearly $360,000 for use in Florida. They also contributed more than $43,000 to promote a “Greenspace Tax” initiative in Collier County, Fla. Is this our tax money? The Conservancy of Southwest Florida contributed $60,000 to the tax initiative; they received more than $165,000 from the federal government during the same period. Conservative groups are organizing to stop this use of tax dollars.

It’s not enough to vote. If we want this foolishness to stop, we must get involved with local organizations to multiply our voting power to elect candidates who share our view.

Where we can be most effective is at the local level. Local groups can insist that “citizen advisory councils” include no individuals whose salaries are paid by tax dollars, or by any group that receives federal grants. This would prevent agency staff and “professionals” from dominating the policy-making councils and commissions. Elected officials would be forced to appoint citizens to their citizens’ advisory councils.

True, it would take a concerted effort on the part of a local group to pack meetings of the county commission or city council, but it can be done. It can be done at the state and federal levels as well. Only when we return the policy-making responsibility to elected officials will we be able to hold them accountable.

Freedom begins at the ballot box. But it cannot end there. Freedom is a daily exercise, and a daily responsibility. The freedoms we have lost are the result of our apathy. We cannot fault others for advancing their vision of government. We must fault ourselves for being outsmarted, outworked and outmaneuvered.

Nov. 5 is just another day to meet the responsibility of freedom – it is what we do in the days that follow that will determine whether or not our children ever know the freedom our founders gave us.

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