Young folks – generally – do not show up at the ballot booth because they seem to think they have little to lose. Or have little power in the decision making.
It has happened in recent memory, when large numbers of young and independent voters eager to cast a vote against racism and against what many saw as unjustified wars, turned out in 2008 to elect Barack Obama and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, the mostly immortal youth did not turn out, but their elders did, and the result was a gnawing away of some hard-won health and gender rights.
I’ve lived in several states during my adulthood. One consistency has been about 75 percent of our local taxes go to our schools. Every four years, a relatively small number of voters elect school board members who promise to lower or limit taxes and make sure all our kids go to college. Having elected the new board, the electors then stay away from meetings in droves, and wonder why nothing much changes.
A township supervisor running for county commissioner told a group of college students that the monthly supervisor meetings in his municipality consistently are attended by four residents – three of whom were the supervisors.
There are those among us who believe our vote does not count. They find other things to do and prove themselves absolutely correct when the votes they don’t cast don’t count. There are candidates who depend on that.
It doesn’t take many of those uncounted votes to affect an election: in 1992, a state representative in my home county, who had held his seat 14 years, lost to a challenger by only 13 votes. In another state, I witnessed a candidate for state office lose by, coincidentally, the number of votes that were not cast by eligible voters who stayed at his home to set up the victory party.
The would-be senators, representatives and governors on this year’s ballot are responsible for determining our taxes and using them to fund our schools and roads. They create the laws that protect our water and soil and way of life. Or take what we assume to be private property and sell it to the highest bidder.
They decide whether we will preserve open spaces, and which toilets certain of our citizens may use, and how much some of us will pay to obtain public information.
Polls consistently show that most U.S. voters think we are a nation of equality, governed by a Constitution that applies to all our citizens. Unfortunately, those principles sometimes run afoul of partisan zeal to interpret equality in opposing ways. One person’s judicial activist is another person’s literalist. A majority of those who actually show up to vote, get to decide which definition applies.
Much of our dissatisfaction with our lawmakers is caused by candidates who, for decades, have told us “government is not the solution; government is the problem.” Then they beg us to vote for them to become part of government.
Collectively, we do through government what we cannot do on our own. Those we elect – or allow to be elected – do things in our name.
We hear talk from time to time about how voting is a privilege, or a responsibility, or a right. It is all three. Especially, it is a right granted by a couple hundred years of volunteers putting their lives on the line to ensure.
Or someone else can make our decisions for us.