Among the many things we owe the ancient Greeks is the secret ballot — the forerunner of the computer-tabulated paper ballots that the good citizens of the South Sound will have dropped in the mail by tonight.
The Athenians — who invented democracy — developed a simple and ingenious system for voting. Each voter was were given two round bronze disks, one with a solid axle, the other with a hollow axle — a “yes” ballot and a “no” ballot. He concealed the disks in his fist and dropped the “yes” in one jar, the “no” in the other.
The hunger for self-government dates back so far it seems hard-wired into the human genome. Today, most nations claim to be democracies, even ones — like Russia and Venezuela — whose elections are free only in appearance.
Another thing we owe the Greeks is the word “idiot.” In Athens, it meant a person who had no interest in community affairs or public life.
The best citizens follow what’s going on in their neighborhoods, counties, states and country. They go out of their way to inform themselves about what’s on their ballots. Ideally, they actively help build their communities, whether it be through coaching little league, running for office, sweeping leaves off the elderly neighbor’s sidewalk or other service.
As a bare minimum, citizens should register to vote, read the voters pamphlet and cast their ballots.
Voting is easier to let slip in an off-year election like today’s, because there are no sexy, high-profile races at the top of the ballot. Would-be presidents, governors and congressional candidates aren’t running.
As of Monday afternoon, the rate of ballot returns in the state and region didn’t look encouraging. In Washington as a whole, only 18.9 percent of the state’s 3.97 million voters had their votes in. In Pierce and Thurston counties, it was 18 percent. We hope the mailboxes are stuffed today.
An advantage of non-sexy elections: When fewer citizens cast ballots, the weight of each vote increases. For those who do vote, this is an opportunity for unusual influence over public decisions.
We especially hope that the citizens of Puyallup will take the time to vote in favor of Proposition 1, the school construction bond measure that will help put students in the district’s overcrowded schools into real classrooms.
We hope Tacomans will reject Citizens Initiative 1, which would increase the minimum wage by more than half again, to $15 an hour, without any time to cushion the shock to small businesses.
We hope Tacomans will reject Initiative 2, the mangled “strong mayor” charter amendment. We hope they will approve the street-improvement package, Proposition 3 and Proposition 1.
More important than our recommendations, though, is the need for informed voting by citizens who love their communities, whatever their views of the issues and candidates.
The Web offers voters an unprecedented amount of information. This newspaper has a detailed voters guide on its website, as do the state and county. Please do the homework, then fill out that precious ballot.