Chapel Hill: Opinion

Time to step up and be counted – Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross
Kirk Ross

When I was a reporter for the Chapel Hill News, we had a policy about controversial stories in the Sunday paper before the election.

The policy was that there would be none.

The logic was that since the paper wouldn’t come out again until the following Wednesday, there was no time for a response or a correction.

I still wrote a lot of election stories that spelled out who was running for what and why. They had innocuous headlines like “Voters head to the polls” or “Plenty of choices on the ballot.”

No one ever raves over these kinds of stories, but they’re the most important things we do as local journalists. It’s when we fulfill the other part of the bargain, the one that was sealed into the Constitution when a comma was added to the First Amendment after the word “speech” and the words “or of the press” were added.

The result of an free, unfettered press has proved as messy as the rest of democracy, but the two couldn’t have survived without each other.

This election has been awful and awful to cover, especially for those who have been on the campaign trail. They’ve endured physical intimidation, death threats and constant attacks on social media. Relentlessly. Anonymously.

Truth itself has been under attack as though it is a variable. Polls are unskewed, fact checking unchecked.

The dumpster pyre of 2016 comes at a shaky time for the press. Corporate consolidations and cutbacks have put extra stress on newsrooms and the industry still has trouble dancing with the internet.

At the same time, the election has proven that a good reporter with a note pad and a telephone is still the most effective means of fulfilling the bargain with our republic.

You have an obligation in this election as well. You have to sift through all that’s been thrown about and then, you have to show up.

Vote. Do not sit this out.

Don’t think for a second that this year you have some moral authority to withhold your franchise. In a state where so much is on the line, where voting itself has been under attack, your ballot is more than just a recording of preferences. It is an affirmation of the belief of self-government and a repudiation of the poison of mistrust and retribution sowed through the first three seasons of 2016.

If you’re having trouble mustering that belief in self-governing and are still determined to withhold your vote, consider for a minute that you might not be voting for just you. Because you’re not. One person, one vote doesn’t translate to “my vote.” It means a lot more than that.

Of course you vote for yourself, but you also vote for everyone who can’t. In Orange County that includes the roughly 30,000 people under 18, six thousand of whom are age 5 or younger. It includes students from abroad studying at the university, people in prison, those too ill to vote, the undocumented and the dreamers and everyone you know who died this year who would have stepped up.

You vote for people who have been disenfranchised or intimidated. Each mark on your ballot erases a little bit more of that stain.

You vote because you have been granted a very hard won right to that private moment when in concert with millions of your fellow citizens you get to put your hand on the wheel and help steer.

That is sacred, or at least it should be.

See you at the polls.

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at