Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Keeping Our Republic

The curiosity of youth is a wondrous quality. To fulfill a 6th grade writing assignment, our first son Rob decided to write about tanks, the kind with guns. Unsure where to start, we went to the gate at Camp Pendleton. The Marines were magnificent; Rob was soon sitting at the controls of a real tank. This may have influenced a new adventure. At 16, he learned you could volunteer during summer vacation with the Israeli Defense Forces, working on tanks. All he had to do was be interviewed by a rabbi and submit an application. It’s a tough thing for parents, to know when to support youthful curiosity and when to mediate risk.

Rob grew up, became a lawyer, and moved to Washington, DC. There he learned of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which among other duties provides volunteers to supervise elections in countries without a democratic tradition. You had to volunteer your time, but you received an expense-paid trip to observe the rough side of elections of budding democracies in less-traveled corners of our planet. If a country ends with “-stan,” Rob’s likely been there for an election.

One of his most impressive experience was an election in Mongolia. Mongolia emerged as a constitution-based democracy after the dissolution of the USSR in the early ‘90s. It’s a primitive country of vast roadless steppes averaging scarcely two people per square kilometer with more horses than citizens. His election assignment was a remote village reached by following car tracks across the roadless steppes. What he found amazed him.

The polling place was as primitive as you might expect: a ‘ger,’ the Mongolian form of the Central Asian yurt. But in the ger the technology was the surprise. Voters were identified biometrically by their thumbprint. A satellite uplink transferred their vote to polling headquarters. The technology to enable a fair election in Mongolia far exceeds our own practices. In fact, since 2016 the OSCE has been sending election observers to the U.S. As citizens, we should be concerned about the decline of voting integrity.

An informed voter is critical to the survival of democracy. We have a neighborhood tradition of meeting in a home to discuss the candidates and propositions. The down-ballot offices are the more difficult: state legislature, city council, school board, community college board, etc. Who are these people and what will they do? We make assignments to learn more and share the results. We also study the propositions. This year there are a dozen; we’ll give them a close look. I’ll write about our meeting in two weeks and share our findings. It’s up to you readers to decide the top of the ballot—that’s had a surfeit of attention.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Elizabeth Willing Powel, “a lady remarkable for her understanding and wit,” asked Benjamin Franklin what had been produced. Franklin famously replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” It’s a job always before us, and well-informed voters are central to keeping our Republic. There’s meaning in that.

Skip Hellewell fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]

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