Remember hanging chads?

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It was a year ago this week that that term é referring to the little rectangle punched out from a paper ballot é became part of U.S. election lore. If it didn’t fully separate from the paper ballot, it was considered hanging, or maybe dimpled. Some election officials interpreted an unseparated chad as voter indecision. And it was one of the reasons our nation was left hanging for more than a month, not knowing whom our next president would be.

The importance of fully separating your chads was just one of many lessons we learned from last year’s election.

We learned that certain election procedures needed close review and reform in many cases.

We learned that candidates who don’t win on first blush (or second blush or third blush) can turn to the courts for assistance. And that’s something that the founding fathers probably NEVER intended when they devised their three-branched governmental structure é having the court system decide an election. The electorate was supposed to be who put individuals into elected office.

But the most important lesson we learned is that the right to vote is not to be taken for granted. If you don’t get out to vote, you have no right to be upset with the results.

We learned that every vote can make a difference. That will be the enduring lesson of the 2000 election.

But just one year after all of these lessons were learned, we’re still reeling in the aftermath of our nation’s darkest hour. We worry about alleged threats to blow up suspension bridges in California, as well we should. We would be daft to consider such acts unthinkable, because nothing is unthinkable any longer.

We worry about receiving toxic spores in our mail, because many people are.

We worry about our economy, with staggering unemployment figures affecting hundreds of thousands of individuals and families nationwide. We worry about our businesses, small and large, that find themselves in a full-blown recession / correction / dip / put in your own descriptive word here.

And while we are understandably preoccupied, we need to remember what happened one year ago this week. Prior to Sept. 11, it was unthinkable that the election lessons of last year could have been forgotten. And if we forget to vote or just decide not to go to vote, you can chalk up another victory for Osama bin Ladin and Al-Qaita in again disrupting our way of life.

Let’s not let that happen. Let’s not let terrorism negatively affect our election process. Let’s make it just the opposite é let’s set records for turnout in off-year elections. Let that news filter into some cave in Afghanistan with a very defined exclamation point. The message would be, You won the battle, but you haven’t and won’t win the war.

And if you vote in a precinct that uses paper-punch ballots, do yourself and everyone a favor. Make sure all of your chads are fully separated.

Mr. Tom Mitsoff is a daily newspaper editor and syndicated editorial columnist. His web address is http://www.tommitsoff.com.

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