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Romney, Obama can help democracy in presidential debates

Voter interest in the 2012 election is down. Mitt Romney and President Obama must use the unique opportunity of the presidential debates to engage those not likely to vote.

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Crews prepare for the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney at the University of Denver.

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If the White House is the bully pulpit, the presidential debates are the rally pulpit.

These pivotal performances are the one big chance for candidates to not only win over those inclined to vote but also reach the more than a third of Americans who generally don’t cast ballots in national elections.

Each major-party candidate knows he must use these televised debates to reach into the homes of today’s nonvoters – who may be apathetic, angry, or disaffected – and rouse them to get to the polls.

Why should the candidates care about nonvoters who sit on their hands?

If past elections are any guide, neither President Obama or Mitt Romney will win the largest percentage of eligible voters – the nonvoters. In other words, the electoral mandate of the next president will be weak if the number of people who don’t vote is greater than those who vote for him.

The disputes during the debates over policy, character, or record should be secondary to each candidate’s task of encouraging every American – not just those in their parties – to vote.

And on one point Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney can agree: The decision not to vote sends a subtle message that an individual can’t make a difference.

Democracy is based on the very idea that sovereignty lies with the individual – not the state, corporation, union, or any group. To essentially deny that point by not voting is to give a heave-ho to an idea that took centuries and many lives to bring to about half of humanity today.

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