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On Memorial Day, Barb and I attended the ceremony at Fort McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell. To do so was not only a reminder for us of the sacrifice of those who gave all to protect the freedom we all share, but to realize that many of the living in attendance are the sons, daughters, parents and extended families of those lost loved ones. It must be remembered that the death of these soldiers is more than an individual loss, it creates a huge hole in families and communities that reaches down through future generations.
It was heartening to hear the words of the main speaker, our own David C. Olson, who by his own admission is neither a polished orator nor a man of high military position, but a veteran of common rank. As an advocate for veterans, no one better could have relayed the message that Memorial Day is not a celebration of accomplishments by the politicians or the generals, but instead, of the valor and sacrifice of the common soldier. On Memorial Day, we honor the greatness of those individuals who died in service to their fellow Americans.
With Memorial Day in mind, it is concerning to us the lack of importance that most Americans put into their duty to vote. Recent statewide and local elections have had dismal voter turnout. In the Omaha Public School’s successful $409.9 million bond election to renovate older schools and build 5 new schools in Northwest Omaha, only 21.4% of registered voters voted; meaning that the 14.4% of those registered who voted in favor decided the issue. In a Millard Public Schools levy override election, only 46.8% of registered voters voted and 29.2% of those registered decided to raise property taxes for all of the homeowners in the district. Even in the recent primary election where winners go on to the general election, the statewide 24.27% voter turnout (25.87% Lincoln County) was disappointing.
Politicians in the past have blamed voter access for the declining turnout, so we expanded early voting from election day to weeks, we expanded the ability to vote by mail and we made it easier to register to vote by creating DMV motor vehicle-voter registration and created provisional ballots for those who have changed addresses. None of it worked, yet we now have more disinterested citizens registered to vote and that has distorted the percentage of active voters; but even with that, the number of voters has decreased nationally. It is akin to saying if we build them a house they will move here, the fact is a person has to be motivated to want to live somewhere and to vote when they get there.
I am approaching the issue through public education. When addressing the State Board of Education last year concerning their upcoming student civic and social study assessments, I stated that we already have an assessment of our public schools’ success in instilling civic readiness in our children; it is voter turnout. As each new generation of voters leave our schools, fewer and fewer of them are voting.
We are preparing proposed legislation to address needed changes to our present statutes that require American civics to be taught in our schools, updating the old 1940’s Americanism Law. The statute gives guidance to school boards on the subject matter and curriculum that is expected to be offered to students. The present statute makes it a misdemeanor crime by a teacher for not following the statute and basically puts the county sheriff in charge of enforcing it. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled similar provisions unconstitutional and against a teacher’s free speech rights. A person does have the right to say what they wish, they cannot be arrested; but they can be fired by their employer. One of the changes we propose will put enforcement in the hands of the local and State Boards of Education. We also will eliminate old cold war terminology starting with the word “Americanism” and instead refer to “American citizenship”. In order to take pride in citizenship, and then take responsibility to vote, one must first know the history and sacrifices of those who came before.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.