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Editorial: Still worth your vote
Even if presidential race leaves you cold, there are key races, issues on local ballot
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April Smith, a poll worker, directs voters to get their identification cards checked Friday during early voting at the Hall County Government Center in Gainesville. This year's voter turnout broke records and surpassed voter turnout in the 2008 election.

Election Days when Americans gather to elect a new president have always been a joyous tribute to our constitutional democracy and the will of the people.

This election, however, is one less to be celebrated than endured, many preferring to hide under the bed curled in a fetal position.

No campaign in memory has produced major party nominees who have fueled such hostility, distrust and disgust. That’s not just the media talking; look at the polls and comments reflecting how turned off many voters are.

The candidates’ respective baggage has driven their campaigns. Rather than focus on ideas to improve prosperity, security and freedom, they mostly have targeted each other’s missteps, mistruths and character flaws. The daily headlines have been not about policy ideals but indecent behavior, insensitive remarks, shady emails and questionable charitable ties.

The “debates,” such as they were, produced some of the nastiest moments in political history, each candidate recounting a litany of malfeasance by the other while defending their own tacky, dumb or illegal acts. “I’m bad but he/she is worse” is hardly a clarion call to inspire voters.

When the votes are counted and the result is known, half the country will gnash its teeth in anger, a quarter or so will accept it with resignation and maybe a quarter, if that, will be joyful. And when the confetti is swept up, the president-elect will face the same doubts voiced during the campaign and face the ugly potential of voting challenges, congressional investigations and other decisions rendered in courtrooms rather than polling precincts. If any group is whistling a happy tune as they go to the polls, it’s Washington lawyers who face four years of steady work.

What a choice. And yet we are duty-bound to select one as leader of the free world. There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig, yet there is some comfort to be found, and other items on the ballot to justify a trip to the polls.

Remember that even in an election where sanity and reason are mostly absent, the Founding Fathers anticipated this dilemma and created built-in remedies. Our blessed Constitution, to the chagrin of presidents past and future, limits the chief executive’s power. There are ways around it, in the form of executive orders, but the courts can put the kibosh on most that overreach.

Foreign policy remains largely a presidential duty, likely the new commander in chief’s arena of success or failure. But with any sweeping reforms on domestic matters, he or she would face more roadblocks than an Atlanta commuter. Unless one party sweeps to a large majority in Congress, lawmakers will hesitate to rubber-stamp either candidate’s agenda. Gridlock may be the ongoing norm, and though hardly desired, is better than an avalanche of bad ideas.

The third leg of democracy’s stool, the Supreme Court, remains deadlocked at 4-4, its vacant ninth seat gathering dust until the new president chooses a nominee. And its the Senate that gets to confirm that choice, likely the first knife fight of the new term. Even with a 5-4 edge in either direction, extremism will be tempered.

Don’t forget we’ve had presidents before who were crooked or inept. Yet the republic lives on, able to function despite weak leaders because the Constitution’s authors knew we’d foul it up more than once.

There’s also much more on the ballot than who gets to park in the Oval Office. Georgia’s senior senator is up for re-election, facing Democratic and Libertarian challengers. If you want to select either an ally or an obstacle for the new president, here’s your chance.

Hall County has contested races for seats on the county commissioner and State House of Representatives. Voters also can choose to launch a study to consider merging county and city governments, a long-simmering idea that has cropped up anew. Folks in Lula will be able to decide on sales of booze by the glass.

The statewide ballot includes four potential constitutional amendments all worth careful scrutiny. The first we have discussed: creation of an Opportunity School District for failing schools. Groups for and against passage have spent millions trying to swing votes their way. We’re not sold on the plan as the best way to improve schools, and whatever the result, we hope the vote doesn’t end the discussion. If the amendment fails, legislators should develop a new plan for struggling schools that more effectively involves the state’s current educational structure and leadership.

Another concerns the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which reviews complaints against judges. The amendment would change how members are chosen, taking away the State Bar’s picks and giving them to the lieutenant governor, House speaker and legislature. The motive appears purely political, an attempt to thwart the board’s independent status and make it answerable to elected leaders. Though the commission’s actions don’t directly affect most of us, the idea of taking this duty from legal experts and giving more power to politicians isn’t one we endorse.

Other amendments involve increasing penalties for sex crimes, with money taken in fines to be directed toward social services for victims of sex trafficking, and steering sales taxes on fireworks toward public safety and trauma care. Both seem valid uses of such resources.

Thus, there’s still plenty on the ballot worth our attention, even if Hillary and Donald leave you cold. If you’re among those holding your nose as you vote, take solace in the fact our nation has always been better than many of the people elected to lead it. We hope for better choices next time, but in the meantime, no one needs to move to Canada based on the outcome. Good Lord willing, the next four years will go by quickly and we’ll survive to vote again.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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