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Congratulations to the Volunteer of the Year

In an interview earlier this month, 2021 Tri-Lakes Volunteer of the Year Stephanie Gubelin of Lake Placid describes her efforts to register voters for the 2020 election. (Photo — Amy Scattergood)

Inside today’s Enterprise you’ll find the 2021 edition of the Community Resource Directory. If you’re reading this online, you can find it on our website under “Guides” in the top menu. You can pick up a free copy in the front vestibule of our office (54 Broadway, Saranac Lake).

For those not familiar with this annual publication, it is exactly what its title says it is — a valuable directory of contact information for all kinds of useful local entities — but that’s not all it is. It also has four feature stories written by Amy Scattergood, our former reporter now working as a freelance writer, about local volunteers who selflessly help others in the Tri-Lakes area. There is a story about unpaid fire-rescue workers in Wilmington, the people who shifted the Saranac Lake Methodists’ free supper to home delivery for the pandemic, and sewers who made thousands of masks for anyone and everyone. And then there’s a profile of the Volunteer of the Year, an annual tradition since 1991.

It’s been said a million times, but people around here sure are generous with their time and effort. A huge number of local residents volunteer, and many of them go beyond the norm to a level we can only describe as heroic.

That makes it both easy and hard for the Enterprise and Lake Placid News to choose a Volunteer of the Year for the Tri-Lakes region each year: easy because of the wealth of options, hard for our staff to pick just one from the many nominees we receive from our readers.

The winner should be someone whose work made a noticeable difference in the community. Sometimes that impact is incremental over many years, making this more of a lifetime achievement award; sometimes it’s a big impact in the past 12 months. This year’s winner is one of the latter.

Please join us in congratulating the 2021 Volunteer of the Year, Stephanie Gubelin of Lake Placid, who did more than anyone else we know to register people to vote in the 2020 election.

She did it in a nonpartisan way, leading a team of fellow volunteers in places people of all political persuasions go: grocery stores, farmers markets, drug stores, post offices and, with students’ help, high schools. You can read more about it in the Community Resource Directory story.

This election ended up having a record-breaking voter turnout, and her efforts contributed significantly to that.

Before anyone starts grumbling about which party those efforts might have helped more, let’s get something straight: They helped all of us — period.

Here in the North Country, the enlarged electorate chose Republicans for Congress and the state Legislature, and mostly voted for the Republican presidential candidate — although nationally, Americans elected a Democratic president. Like those results or not, that’s not the point. It’s always good to have more eligible voters voting. It means the winners have a mandate from more of the people, and that more of the people care enough to hold those elected leaders accountable.

In 2014 when Scotland voted on independence from the United Kingdom, Scots were so engaged in the decision that 97% of eligible voters were registered to vote, and about 85% of eligible voters actually voted. In a typical U.S. presidential election, about 70% of eligible voters are registered and about 60% of them actually cast ballots. But just before last year’s election, a Pew Research Center study found a record 83% of eligible voters were registered. About two-thirds of eligible voters voted, according to separate estimates by Pew and the American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara. That is the most since the statistic started being tabulated in 1980, and possibly going back much further.

Elections are how our society avoids tyranny, chaos and bloodshed. As more people take part in them, that marginalizes anyone who might wish to sway our nation by non-democratic means. As ugly as our elections can get, they are the bulwark of peace.

Nevertheless, getting people to take part in them takes a lot of hard work. Stephanie Gubelin says people gave her all kinds of reasons for being reluctant to vote. Some said they didn’t want to tell others what to do, or didn’t have time to research the candidates properly, or were boycotting politicians in general, or didn’t think it would make a difference.

Stephanie Gubelin made a difference — a huge one — by putting herself in a position to listen to those people, talking some of them into registering anyway, and spending countless hours of her life supporting American democracy. We may never know exactly what fruits that labor produced, but we can safely say it strengthened our system of self-government at a critical time. She didn’t do it alone, but she led this important effort and deserves all of our thanks.

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