Your vote is a valuable commodity. It’s the difference between being a victim or a volunteer. It is participation. It is involvement.

And that’s all serious business. Voting for Porky Pig? That’s really not.

In every election, there are people who exercise another right: the ability to disregard the options on the printed ballot and submit their own.

These are the write-in votes. Sometimes they are legitimate campaigns by people whose interest in a position didn’t line up with the dates in the primary. Sometime someone who didn’t make the ballot on one ticket in the spring tries to engage both sides to pull out a win in the fall.

Then there are the grassroots write-ins. Voters might not like the options on the ballot and decide to write in a legitimate individual to fill the seat.

But then there are the situations like in North Irwin Borough this month.

There were 33 write-in ballots for council in the Nov. 5 election. One went to that cartoon pig. One went to Jesus H. Christ. Others were more vague. “Somebody With A Brain” could be anyone. “My Left Foot” might be, well, anybody’s left foot.

So it might seem like these write-ins were squandering that precious vote. They weren’t.

No one in North Irwin was running for the three open seats on the ballot. The voters had no options to select, making the weird suggestions akin to protest votes crying out for anyone — animated, celestial or otherwise — to step up to the plate.

What wasted these votes wasn’t a campy sense of humor. It was the lack of engagement. More people must participate in government for government to work. We can’t demand people vote but not give them candidates to choose.

But we can ask if a place like North Irwin — population around 800, with 530 voters — is viable as a unit of government. Local control is all well and good, but it’s not entirely surprising that a pool of 530 people failed to yield an interested candidate for council.

In other communities, a similar lack of people to fill vital offices has prefaced consolidation with other municipalities. When South Philipsburg in Centre County could no longer field a council in its borough of about 400, it folded into Rush Township in 2007.

If voting is our basic right and baseline responsibility, running for local office is leveling up, taking the next step to make our communities what we want them to be. That is important and it is absolutely necessary.

That’s all, folks.

The above editorial was published Nov. 12 by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Its views are its own.

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