The right to vote, and to have the vote count There have been numerous comments from readers, many of them hostile, regarding a voter's inability to fill in the oval on the ballot. The usual response is that if they can't fill it in properly then they don't deserve to vote.

I have served as an election judge for several elections now. This past election I manned one of the roster books that voters sign to get their ballot receipt. We had several voters who were obviously disabled, and some whose disabilities were not so obvious. I had one gentleman who arrived in a wheelchair. He appeared to be quadriplegic. Maybe he physically couldn't fill in the oval. Maybe he could only X the oval. Does this mean he doesn't deserve to vote? I had an elderly women sign the roster book with great difficulty. Her fingers were bent and gnarled from arthritis. Maybe she could only underline her candidate's name. Does this mean she doesn't deserve to vote?

I would ask that people use reason and understand that not everybody is in perfect physical condition. What matters is that every eligible voter has the right to vote and have that vote count.


British electoral system has much to teach us Anyone who dares to make a disparaging remark about the value of universal suffrage or high voter turnout is likely to be labeled as some form of right-wing nut. Most observers believe that "getting out the vote" is akin to motherhood, the flag and apple pie. But is universal suffrage or high voter participation all it is cracked up to be?

One could argue that the concept contributes to the length, expense and campaign nonsense rampant in our elections. Why should the campaign endure for almost two years and cost several billion dollars? Are the inane sound bites on television of educational value or are they designed to confuse the voter? The TV ads are invariably half-truths, outright lies or bits of quotes taken out of context.

What this country needs is an informed electorate, persons knowledgeable about the issues, and who do not require aid and encouragement to get them to the polls. The parliamentary elections of our sister democracy, Great Britain, have campaigns lasting only a few weeks, cost a great deal less and are more likely attuned to the issues facing the nation. Perhaps we would benefit from some of the advantages of the British electoral system.


Yes, rebuild the economy -- without clutter and pollution As the economic crisis deepens, the finger of blame is pointed in many directions. However, three obvious culprits have been missed.

First, the baby boomers (of whom I am one) are to blame. Many of us are looking at retirement, wanting to downsize our living situation. We look around and realize we have too much stuff. So, instead of supporting the U.S. economy by buying more stuff, we are trying to get rid of what we have.

Second, blame the environmentalist (of whom I am one). Many of us have recognized the connection between the manufacture and consumption of unnecessary goods and the degradation of the environment. Therefore, inspired by the likes of Judith Levine and the simple living movement, we look at all the stuff in the stores, and we are not buying it.

The third set of culprits are the so-called American consumers (a label I detest). Many of us are tired of being cogs in the economic wheel, exchanging our hard-earned cash for cheap consumer goods so some fat-cat factory owner can fly with the jet set. Instead of buying more stuff, we'd like to put our money where it can make a difference -- solving homelessness, cleaning up polluted waterways, eating locally-grown food.

Perhaps, as we rebuild our economy, we can find ways of exchanging goods and services that don't clutter up our homes, damage our environment, and deplete our bank accounts. Yes, we can!


Spread the NCLB joy? After 16 years as a teacher I now realize I've been in the wrong profession. I've been trying to produce educated children, not autos.

After failing to provide quality leadership, the Big Three auto manufacturers are crying for a bailout with a flimsy promise that they will have some sort of "fix it" plan by March. U.S. leaders have not trusted the education system to "fix" themselves. Instead they have created a draconian No Child Left Behind accountability program that requires frequent, rigorous testing and continued reporting on school failures with punitive financial consequences. If NCLB is "good enough" to measure the success of creating educated children, I think it should be applied in all sectors -- Wall Street, automakers, and even our esteemed legislative body.


I-35W bridge duh! factor I have a question for the Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge engineers and their apologists. Say you had an exposed girder that included steel gusset plates supporting the second floor of your house and you noticed that two of the gusset plates had started bowing outwardly by an inch or more from their normal flat plane. Would you choose to place a waterbed above the bulging gusset plates?

The bulging gusset plates on the Interstate 35W bridge were noted and photographed by MnDOT several years ago. Yet they parked nearly 300 tons of construction material directly over the failing plates. How is it possible that they: (1) ignored this obvious sign of impending failure; and (2) put a huge extra load directly over the weak spot?

To blame this entirely on a deceased bridge designer is the same thing as telling the MnDOT engineers and their supervisors that they have no responsibility to think for themselves. I just hope that MnDOT officials are examining the thought process and decisionmaking that followed the discovery of these bulging plates and that they learn from this tragic mistake.


Mr. Paulsen goes to Washington In response to "Paulsen is hard at work prepping for new job on Capitol Hill" (Star Tribune, Nov. 22): Gee, I wonder which Erik Paulsen will show up on Capitol Hill?

The congressman-elect who says he is proud of running a "civilized campaign" (Almanac, Dec 7) or the Paulsen who smeared the Democratic candidate as a "liar" and a tax hiker (the ad was graded "D" by KSTP) and painted the Independent, a fiscal conservative, as a liberal spendthrift?

The Paulsen who stated he'll work in the same bipartisan way as his mentor Jim Ramstad or the Paulsen who as a state legislator voted predictably to the hard right on such issues as minimum-wage increase, family planning and stem cell research?

The Paulsen who says he will listen to all 700,000 of his constituents or the Paulsen who ignored citizens' inquiries about his positions on the war, health care, and the environment and who ensconced himself with supporters at public events. Two mothers did break through his firewall to express concern for their gay sons' civil liberties: He bluntly replied that he would not soften his anti-gay stance.

It will be interesting to monitor Paulsen's first term in Congress. Will he be a Jim Ramstad Republican or a Michele Bachmann one?