Why this former elections official is not interested in the midterms

Why this former elections official is not interested in the midterms
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I should be excited about the midterm federal elections, particularly given the years I spent in service as the Secretary of State of New Jersey and the first Chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

As EAC Chair, I approved expenditures of $2.3 billion in federal funding for states to purchase new voting equipment that would forever replace the hanging chads that complicated the results of the 2000 presidential election. Our commission dealt with the challenges of a voting process including a system that depended on volunteer poll workers, primarily elderly, who in many cases were only vaguely familiar with new voting technologies. Additionally, it was the EAC that commissioned the first ever national study on voter fraud that concluded that only negligible amounts of fraud exist in federal elections.

Given the intense debate regarding foreign tampering with our elections and the intense effort to protect the integrity of voting by various means, I should be intently focused on what happens on Tuesday.

Although I will vote, I am increasingly disenchanted with the seemingly never-ending election season. I have deep concern about the negative impact that elections and political discourse are having on our country.

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The emergence of cable news and talk radio have created nonstop coverage of politics that has placed politics at the center of our existence. The constant battering of partisans on dominant broadcasts and digital platforms has converted our noble experiment of “E Pluribus Unum” – one out of many – into “vade ad victor spolia” – to the victor go the spoils. Defeating those in opposing political, religious and cultural groups seems to have become the dominant political goal.

There is an ongoing advocacy for this antipathy to principles of unity, consensus, and compromise which are the core of how progress results from the democratic process.

Having regularly scheduled elections does not in itself ensure a society that truly enjoys the benefits of freedom. Freedom, even in a democracy, requires a level of civility and intergroup respect that must undergird the right to vote. It is a sad day when a democracy becomes so mean and violent that it is no longer the social envy of the world.

America will certainly lead the world as long as we generate a quality of life that results from economic success and material prosperity. But the world’s most famous historical figure asked the critical question of the ages when he queried: “What does it matter if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?”

We are trending toward losing our national soul when gifted and talented citizens use their intellects to construct explosive devices and mail them to their ideological foes; when young people that have access to unprecedented opportunity become so deranged that their idea of contributing to society is using an automatic weapon to terminate their schoolmates; when visitors to a local supermarket lose their lives because hatred for their skin color made them targets; and when the explanations for all of these horrific acts become ensconced in the political vitriol of the week.

It has become clear that politics has become both the scapegoat and the distraction that is causing our country to be spiritually dehydrated. And rather than treat the dehydration with the clean water of moral consensus and leadership, we are feeding our crisis with the soda pop of political punditry and partisan pontification whose goals seem to be accruing power in order to control the spoils without ever contemplating what they are spoiling in the process.

But fault does not lie with the media or even politicians. It lies with us.

Although America was founded to subordinate the role of government leaders and place power into the hands of the governed, we have allowed our model of representative government to become a system where elected officials become instant royalty and are expected to become brilliant leaders overnight. Our system never assumed that we would elect a new royalty with all of the answers to our problems and all power to fix us where we are broken. Our system assumes that elected officials are representatives serving the interest of their constituents.  The founders had a vision that allowed people to choose those who spoke for them and managed public resources in a manner that protected the interests of the people.

Our country’s greatest and most perplexing challenges cannot be resolved by legislation or government policy.

Will legislation teach young men to respect young women so that the #METOO movement is no longer needed? What government program will transform the minds of the many Americans who have lost everything to opioid addiction? What government agency can convince us that we can disagree with one another on strategies, policies and philosophies, and not become mortal enemies?

It is for these reasons that the midterm election does not command my attention as it might. I see too many families that have given up on their futures.

I know too many people who don’t understand the historical and national significance of a Jewish synagogue becoming the location of human slaughter.

I hear too many people who refuse to understand why there are those who feel compelled to chant that Black Lives Matter.

There is always a venue that will provide a microphone to those willing to remain both ignorant and unconcerned about all of these issues. Even worse, in this environment, one can feel validated in belligerence towards those drowning in these dilemmas rather than seeking to understand their condition.

If we cannot step away from our political conflicts of choice and develop some agreement on very basic values as a country and allow those values to become foundational to our discourse, we will not only lose our souls, but history will record that we became a failed experiment that died from implosion rather than invasion.

DeForest B. Soaries Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. He previously served as New Jersey Secretary of State and Chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission. His next book “Say Yes When Life Says No” is scheduled for release in Spring 2019.