As much as they were appreciated, birthday wishes made it hard to focus Thursday.
Add into the mix that it was dreary and rainy for much of the day and that the boss called in sick. That left me facing an uphill battle in the effort to write this column. My concentration wasn't the best. Far from it.
So, I stepped away for a while, walked a block down the street to the Muscatine County Administration Building at 414 E. Third St., climbed the stairs to the Auditor's Office on the second floor and cast my ballot for Tuesday's upcoming election. I was the 198th person to cast an absentee ballot.
It's not too late for anyone who is an eligible voter in Muscatine County to vote this way. You can still do so from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, you'll have to go to your normal polling place, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Muscatine and noon to 8 p.m. everywhere else in the county.
Over the past few years, I've grown to like absentee voting, perhaps because the Auditor's Office is so close to the Muscatine Journal at 301 E. Third St. All I have to do is walk in, fill out a form, sign an affidavit, take my ballot into the voting booth and do my civic duty. In. Out. Simple. I've never stood in line. It takes about five minutes.
In fact, it's so simple more people ought to do it. But many -too many, in fact - won't cast an absentee or any other kind of ballot. Not quite 6 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots in the school board elections on Sept. 13.
I am hoping more voters this time around will cast ballots, which is arguably one of our greatest rights, but I won't be surprised if they don't.
In a column today on page 1C, syndicated columnist Alan Guebert says we have the government we deserve.
"We handed off our responsibilities for neighbors, communities and the nation to a class of professional politicians who told us what we wanted to hear: we could have it all-roads, bridges, wars, pensions, schools, aircraft carriers, health care, clean water-and not pay for it all," he says. "We - you and I -have checked out. We can't have participatory democracy if we don't participate."
But we don't participate - even at the most local level. If we did, more of us would vote and there would actually be a contested race on every line of every ballot.
As it is, only one of the four open seats on the Muscatine City Council will be filled by someone who won a contested race. That would be in the Fifth Ward, where Allen Harvey and Jeanette Phillips are vying to succeed Dyann Roby, who chose not to seek re-election in order to run for the mayor's office.
I have nothing against Tom Spread or incumbent Council members Phil Fitzgerald and Osama Shihadeh, all of whom are running unopposed. As a community, however, we should be ashamed of ourselves that no one was willing to challenge them.
It could be worse. Roby has three opponents - DeWayne "Hoppi" Hopkins, Kim Otto and Roger Roth - in the race to succeed Mayor Dick O'Brien. He chose to retire after 16 years in office.
And this is an interesting race. In the language of sports betting, I'd call it a pick-em contest between Hopkins and Roby, both of whom are generally regarded as the favorites. I wouldn't venture a guess as to which one of them will win and it will be close regardless of who wins.
That race alone ought to be enough to encourage Muscatine residents to vote Tuesday if they really want to have a participatory democracy. And really wanting it means - for a few minutes on Tuesday, anyway - putting your obligation to vote ahead of anything else you would rather do instead.
It's really that simple.
Contact Editor Chris Steinbach at firstname.lastname@example.org.