Some people won't vote, but sure will complain

March 18, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

One of the first calls this morning was from a woman who was furious about the way she was being treated in Divorce Court.

The judge, she said, was an indifferent, insensitive fool. She also suspected that he was a male chauvinist. And he seemed to treat her estranged husband's lawyer with greater respect than he did her lawyer.

Worst of all, the case had been dragging on and on. That, too, she blamed on the judge. She thought he might be moping along to permit the lawyers to run up bigger fees.

When she finished her long list of grievances, I asked a question: "Do you have your stub from yesterday?"

She said: "Stub? What are you talking about? What stub?"

I told her I was talking about the stub you get after you vote. You hand the ballot to a person who tears off the stub and gives it to you. Sort of like a store receipt.

"What do you want to know that for?" she asked.

"I'll get to that in a minute. But do you have your voting stub?"

She hesitated for a few seconds, then said: "No."

"Why not?"

Sounding irritated, she said: "Because I didn't vote, that's why."

(I give her credit for honesty; she could have said she lost it or threw it away.)

"Why are you asking me about that anyway?" she asked.

So I told her an outrageous lie.

"I ask you that because it is our policy to investigate complaints about government only when they are made by someone who has voted.

"You are complaining about a judge. Yesterday, there were all sorts of judicial candidates on the ballot, but you didn't bother to cast your vote.

"It is unfortunate. If you had your stub, I would assign a team of crack investigative reporters to your case. But now? I'm sorry, but you are disqualified for reasons of civic non-participation."

I can't repeat what she yelled before slamming down her phone, but it was not at all ladylike. It's understandable that she and her husband might have had a turbulent relationship.

As I said, I lied about the stub and voting. There is no such policy. And I can't assign anyone to do anything.

Even if she had voted, I wouldn't poke around her divorce suit. Years of covering the courts taught me that there are more lies told by combatants in divorce cases than in most murder trials.

Asking her about the stub was just a whim. At the moment she phoned, I had been looking at the results of the previous day's voting in the Illinois primary elections.

The turnout was really puny. About 70 percent of those who could have voted didn't bother. The weather was decent, the polls were open from dawn to well after sundown.

True, many of the races were yawners or no-contests. But many of them do matter. They can have an impact on schools, taxes, the environment, crime and who sits there in a black robe and sorts out the hysterical fibs in a divorce case.

Yet, the vast majority of registered voters couldn't drag themselves a few blocks to a polling place. But they will grouse, as that woman did. As a nation, we lead the world in many things. Among them is grousing. Also among them is not bothering to vote.

So, maybe a "stub rule" wouldn't be a bad idea.

A day doesn't pass without someone calling to beef about inept government service, lack of service, injustice or offense. We look into many of the complaints. Some are true, some aren't. Some become stories, most don't. But even in cases that don't make the paper, the problems are often rectified because our inquiries serve as a wake-up call to a bureaucrat or politician.

It stands to reason that if 70 percent of the eligible voters skipped Tuesday's primaries, all of the grousing can't be coming from the 30 percent who showed up.

The fans who recently booed the Bulls were criticized in some circles.

But at least they bought tickets and know who the players are. Most of the grousers about government don't know the players, don't want a scorecard when it is offered, and don't even have a stub.

So they get what they pay for.

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