Conservatively Speaking

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By John Barnhart

As I write this, the results of Tuesday's elections are still unknown. By the time you read this, however, everybody will know.

At least, I hope everybody was paying attention. Elections are important and Bedford area residents had four contested races on their ballots. I want to thank Delegate Lacey Putney, Lewis Medlin, Sheriff Mike Brown, Chuck Green, Darryl Updike, Andy Dooley, Tom Dooley, Annie Pollard, Julie Bennington and Laura Rodes for having their names on the ballot. They gave voters a choice, something we must have for democracy to work.

We should all be thankful that we have this choice. A lot of people don't have it.

This struck me because China's Communist Party had its party congress just a few weeks before our election. China's government is nothing like what we have here.

In order to vote in yesterday's election, all you had to do is be a registered voter. To register you only have to be a U. S. citizen who is at least 18-years old and not a convicted felon. The registration process is simple.

Out of China's 1.3 billion people, only 18 million are Communist Party members. This is an invitation only party. To get in a Chinese citizen must be invited by two other party members. It's also the only party in town.

This leaves most of China's population politically on the outside looking in.

Most of those on the inside don't have much say, either. The elections for the slightly more than 2,000 delegates to the party congress, which only takes place once every five years, are rigged so that only the people the party's top leaders want get in on the congress.

This congress chooses the Communist Party's Politburo, the Standing Committee, and the party's general secretary who is also the China's president. These comprise the 30-some people, not elected by the general population, who actually run the country.

Local and provincial officials are chosen by the Communist Party. There are no state and local elections like the one we just had. Nobody can campaign against any law enforcement official saying "It's time for a change."

We have it better here.

For one thing, there are opposing political parties. There is nothing in our system that mandates only two parties, either. There can be as many parties as are able to muster support. Candidates can also get their names on the ballot as independents. In Tuesday's election, only Medlin and Sheriff Brown were political party nominees. The rest ran as independents.

We may gripe about what our elected officials do, but we are free to do that. We may be annoyed by the tactics of some candidate or his supporters, but we have the choice of voting for his opponent.

Our system means that the winners of our elections are answerable to the people. No matter who gave them campaign money, it was the voters who put them in office. Once they are in office, voters can still influence them if enough voters feel passionately about something and make their opinion known by a letter, e-mail or phone call. The result is a government that, while not perfect, works for most of us most of the time.

I have only missed one election since the first time I voted in 1972. I missed the election of 1980 because my ship had deployed, I was in the Indian Ocean on election day, and I procrastinated about getting an absentee ballot until it was too late.

Yesterday, as usual, I voted in my Roanoke County precinct before coming in the office. One disappointment on my ballot is that my state senator, John Edwards, ran unopposed. Edwards is a liberal and I wished that he had an opponent so that I would have had a choice. He didn't, so I wrote in the name of my friends' dog as a protest. Maybe, the next time around somebody will actually get on the ballot to oppose that guy.

I hope that you, too, participated in yesterday's celebration of American democracy.