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Some Vote Despite Hardship; Many Don't Despite Ease

November 05, 1986|From the Washington Post

NENAHNEZAD CHAPTER, N.M. — Even before the Election Day sun rose Tuesday morning over the muddy bluffs of the high desert, Alfred Tacheeny planned to be up and about, listening to the announcers on KNDN as they translated the lengthy 1986 ballot into Navajo.

With his choices in mind, Tacheeny was to take a bouncing 40-minute excursion in his old truck down the dirt road to the community center in Waterflow, N.M., where he would vote for the people who will govern his county, state and nation. Then he planned to drive back up the road to the Navajo chapter house here to vote in tribal elections.

Roughly 73 million other Americans from Maine to Maui were expected to join Tacheeny on Tuesday in voting, a privilege that only a minority of mankind enjoys.

The New York-based research institution Freedom House says roughly one-third of the world's population ever gets the chance to vote in free elections. Another third or so can cast "ballots" in sham elections, and a third never get to vote at all for the people who govern their lives.

Low Turnout Predicted

For most Americans, going to the polls is a less arduous experience than it is for the residents of the Navajo reservation in New Mexico's scenic northwest corner. In urbanized America, most voters live a few minutes' walk from a polling place.

But the experts predicted that only two of every five Americans registered to vote would do so Tuesday.

Scholars have studied the apparent indifference of American voters. Some say the low turnouts reflect a general disgust with politics and politicians. Others suggest that failure to vote is chiefly a sign of contentment.

One possible explanation is that voting is too difficult or too time-consuming for most people. But in fact, studies indicate that participation is often high in areas where just getting to the polls is an outright chore.

In political jargon, a precinct is the geographic area served by a single polling place. Most city and suburban precincts--most of the precincts in the country--are small. City dwellers rarely have to travel more than a few blocks to the polling place; suburban homes are generally within a few miles of the polls.

Two-Hour Journey

Then there is Precinct 219 in the Everglades of Collier County, Fla. Mary Morgan, county elections supervisor, says the precinct covers 1,000 square miles. She says voters make two-hour treks via four-wheel-drive vehicles to the polling place in Everglade City.

Ballots were delivered by air drop to voters on Little Diomede Island, an Eskimo community above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. If the planes cannot get back to pick up the ballots, voters will make their choices via telephone.

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