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We interrupt the non-stop holiday music for this possibly unwelcome public service announcement: Election Day in Forest Park is March 20!

I know, I know, you were trying to get into the holiday spirit, and here I remind you about a subject you’d rather not think about. But here’s why I’m risking your irritation by bringing up the subject:

Some polls have the approval rating of Congress in the single digits, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re talking about Republicans or Democrats. The mood of the country seems to be expressed in the statement “a pox on both your houses.”

When I ask my apathetic friends why they don’t vote, they usually answer, “I didn’t like either of the choices nominated by the mainline parties.” Now I can sympathize with that. I voted for Blagojevich twice. I thought he was the lesser of two evils. Mea culpa.

But consider this: The voter turnout in primaries is between 15 and 20 percent, and we live in the 7th Congressional District, which has about 400,000 eligible voters (a guesstimate on my part based on statistics on Danny Davis’ website). That means, if my math is correct, that less than the number of people living in Forest Park and Oak Park combined is all that’s needed to nominate a person for Congress.

The problem is the people who are motivated to vote in primaries are the true believers, the folks on the extreme right and radical left who are good at drawing lines in the sand and fighting to the death instead of compromising their principles.

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As a religious person, I can relate to taking stands like that, but in this case if there are casualties because of the fight, it won’t be just a few martyrs for the cause but the whole country.

That means the primary election is, in some ways, more important than the general one. Especially if we want to elect reasonable, moderate folks to office who want to mitigate the ideological polarization in this country.

When I interviewed four Forest Parkers participating in the Occupy Chicago protests, one of them said that the sin of the 1% is greed and that the sin of the 99% is apathy. That made sense to me. When I look at the list of offices that will be on the ballot in March, my eyes glaze over, I throw up my hands, and I say that the task of getting information to guide my voting is too overwhelming to even begin. Here’s what we’re voting on:

President of the United States
Representatives in Congress
State Senators
Representatives in the General Assembly
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioners
State’s Attorney
Clerk of the Circuit Court
Recorder of Deeds
Board of Review Commissioners (Districts 1, 2 & 3)
State Supreme Court Judges, vacancies
State Appellate Court Judges, vacancies
Cook County Circuit Court Judges & Subcircuit Judges, vacancies

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If you and I are going to vote intelligently on March 20, it’s clearly going to take a lot of work. So here are three challenges:

Challenge 1: We need to make a commitment to put in hours and hours of research, so we are prepared to vote intelligently. That will require a lot of work, but that’s why I wanted to write this column in December while we still have the time to do our homework.

Challenge 2: Since it is extremely difficult to find information on candidates, especially folks running for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner and the like, this newspaper has got to do some digging to help us by supplying credible information that we can’t get from political ads on TV.

Challenge 3: Write ELECTION on that square labeled March 20 on your calendar, and when you make those New Year’s resolutions, give a high priority to voting intelligently in the primary.

If we don’t, we’ll get what we deserve – a pox on our houses. If we do, there is a better chance of there being a pax on all our houses.

Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion

Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.