Note; I thought this post was lost when the site died, but for some reason most of it was still here when we got back up and running. This particular version is incomplete, and I can’t remember how I ended it, so I’m going to just put this little note in instead.
Apparently there’s an election happening in a few weeks. In November, every American citizen will head to the polls to decide who is the best man to lead the economic recovery, balance the budget, and be an all around good egg.
Except…well, not every American citizen will actually vote. They never do. In 2008, 131.3 million people voted, which – depending on which count of registered voters you look at – represents either 61.7% or 63% turnout. (admittedly this was the highest ratio for quite some time – 2004: 56.7%, 2000: 54.2%, 1996: 51.7%)
This figure is totally mind-boggling to me. That means that more than one voter out of three in the entire country decided that the civic act of participating in a democracy was not for them. The ‘experts’ are suggesting that for this cycle, the turnout will be a bit lower – with Obama engaging many first time voters in 2008, it wouldn’t be a total surprise – but I remain amazed that apathy is even that high.
I’ve asked people why they won’t be voting, and the answer I get the most is “well, it doesn’t make any difference – they’re all the same”; which, on some levels, I can understand. If you look at the record of the current president and the record of his predecessor, there are many things that seem to have become the status quo – overspending on foreign conflicts being one of them, but there are others.
I find it unbelievable, though, that given the struggles that millions of people have endured to ensure them a voice, so many choose to ignore it. It’s also a little sad, in its own way – you can be pretty damn certain that people who don’t vote are just as likely to complain about a tax increase, or a social policy, when it goes against what they think should be done.
If it were up to me, I’d take the “voting-as-civic-duty” thing one step further. I’d make it mandatory to vote. (I know, the civil liberties people will hate this) Don’t like any of the candidates? That’s fine – mark “None of the above”; this would make the election a proper referendum on the uselessness of the candidates. I mean, how could you believe you’ve been given a mandate from the people if half of them didn’t like anybody?
I’ll grant you, there are holes in this idea (how would you enforce it?), but I think that any democracy has a responsibility to ensure that its citizen participate. Naturally, when you think of elections you typically think of the Presidential election, or maybe – at a push – those for your Senator. But of course, there is so much more to it than that – your state has a senate and a congress; and the people in those positions will arguably have more of a direct impact on your life than the president will.