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A Reader Writes by Eric M. Reyes: Treasuring our democratic system

April 30, 2002

The recent election was contentious, controversial, confusing and ultimately very telling.

That there were "irregularities" is not new to the Imperial Valley, state elections or national elections. Elections have been won and lost because of irregularities, miscommunications, backroom deals, fraud, gerrymandering and other such type of manipulations and suspect activities.

The focus of the complaints on the recent election, just as it was on the last controversial election here four years ago, has been on the job performance (or more accurately, lack of) by county Registrar of Voters Dolores Provencio. The problems associated with the elections have been rightfully laid at Provencio's feet. She is the person in charge and paid well, by this county's standard of living, to carry out a highly important and critical job in a country rhetorically based on democracy.

The criticism and disappointment in her job performance is warranted, but there are other mitigating factors that many have not considered publicly that share the blame as well, and in the big picture, were the reasons for some candidates not being elected.

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In Provencio's defense, I would like to remind everyone that she ran unopposed. The position was available for others to contend for.

The facts speak for themselves as to where the true problems lie in our democratic process. The voter turnout in our county, state and country is pathetic to say the least. With a 32 percent turnout of the eligible voters actually participating, there is an opportunity for special interests and cliques to effectively influence the election.

In the days following the election here, there were dramatic photos in the newspaper of people in an African country lining up outside the polling location in their seemingly Third World village. People were willing to die, as many had in that country in the months and days before the election, for their right to vote, which we as a collective society take for granted. In fact, many stayed in line overnight waiting for the opportunity to vote, as the dictator attempted to deny them their hard fought right to vote.

I cannot fathom people staying overnight here to vote. We no longer cherish the fundamental principles of our powerful and flawed country.

The last point that played a part in the election disappointment was the lack of candidates who were able and not willing to try to motivate the electorate to utilize their precious right to vote. The candidates on a whole ran lackluster campaigns.

I heard some candidates complain about not enough money to compete. There are ways to compensate for that. I heard others say that key people who they rely on were tied up in other campaigns. The candidate is the key person, not the person who nails up the signs.

I heard the campaign manager of another candidate loudly complain about these Mexican voters who "sold out" and voted for the other candidate. He "sold out" the fundamental principle of democracy: the right to choose as we see fit. He failed, or is unwilling to, see the hard facts of his campaign: The election was there to be won. His candidate failed to convince a majority of the minority of voters who voted that he was the better candidate.

They can blame the "irregularities," the poor performance of the polling station workers, the lack of campaign funds, other people not helping them as they expected, people "selling out," whatever, but there is so much more to this.

I ask the candidates to evaluate themselves, just as the people who did vote evaluated them, and think about why those who did vote decided to vote the way they did. If they are able to honestly evaluate themselves, they may be able to bounce back as a stronger candidate in the future; but if through self-evaluation they do not see, because they are unable to or because of arrogance, the changes they need to make, they can expect more of the same in the future.

I commend the candidates who did run for office. It takes courage to put oneself up for the public scrutiny that being a candidate entails. I also ask that the candidates ponder why the people did not vote as they have the right to and contemplate how that affected the election process.

Finally I ask — plead — that the candidates ask if they did everything they could have done to convince people they were the best candidate before anyone cries foul, crime or lays blame elsewhere.

I leave the candidates with a final thought, a saying interpreted here as, "I have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us."

>> ERIC M. REYES is an Imperial resident and a social science teacher at Calexico High School.

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