It's Tuesday, 9/12/00. Today, voters
in many US states
are heading to the polls
to vote in primaries
to select candidates for local
and regional offices
. It's given me time to think about the sorry state
of voter participation
here in America.
As it stands, far fewer than 50% of eligible voters participate in such elections, and if we break much above 50% for a Presidential election, we consider ourselves lucky. Americans over the age of 18 have a say in public policy at a local, state, and national level, but few choose to open their (figurative) mouths and speak.
A lot of excuses are given for this:
- I'm not informed. In the age of the Internet, it's easy to learn about the issues in a short span of time. Visit the candidates' websites, cruise news and opinion websites for analysis, check government sites to see what the statistical facts are. It's easy, and it can be fun. Even if you don't want to do all that, pick a candidate who shares views you think are important, and vote for that person. You may not mind the details of a particular policy stance, as long as you have an advocate that speaks to issues you care about.
- There's no one I want to vote for. You can write in a vote for anyone you want for any office you want. They may not win, or even come close, but you'll have made your choice, and the mere fact that you participated will mean something.
- Not voting sends its own statement. I've heard this one a lot, and I frankly think it's a cop-out. No one will know what kind of candidate you MAY be interested in seeing unless you cast a vote. Again, write someone in, and tell your friends to do the same. This will be registering your support for "none of the above" in a much more powerful way than simply staying away from the polls.
- I'm not registered. Well, get registered. Call your town clerk or registrar of voters and ask how it's done. You may even be able to register at the polling place on the day of the election. Drive down and see.
- My vote doesn't count The point has been made that the President is not directly elected by the voters, but is instead chosen by "electors" who are chosen by the voters. The Electoral College system does skew things a bit, it is true (Rutherford B. Hayes was elected by a majority of electoral votes, but by a minority of voters), but states are often carried by one candidate or another by very slim margins. In these cases (which are not infrequent), individual votes gain in significance. And again, as a voter, you're standing up to be counted.
- I'm young. No candidate talks about issues that relate to me. Know why? Because 18-24 year olds stay away from the polls in droves. No candidate will court the youth vote seriously until youth, as a group, takes to the polls. I can guarantee you that, if voter participation rates for this age group are high, politicians will never risk ignoring you again. Notice how many seniors' issues are covered--that's because seniors have the highest voter-particpation rates of any group.
Even if you can't get out today (or whenever your local primaries are), get yourselves prepared for the Presidential election on November 7, 2000. Open your mouths and let your voices be heard!