Columns 2003

Tie PFD to vote and watch percentages increase

As has become the sadly usual routine in America, only about 30% of the electorate voted in our recent election.  While we fight a war half a world away to bring the freedom to vote to the Iraqi people, the American voter is lethargic at best and apathetic at worse when it comes to one of the greatest privileges our country offers and our constitution guarantees.

I voted.  I had no choice. I have too many relatives in heaven watching me to not vote.  They’d curse me with the Italian evil eye in a heartbeat if they thought for a moment that I took my citizenship for granted and thought voting was too much of a bother.

They came from an immigrant generation that viewed voting not as a right but as a privilege.  They spent their lives in fear that this dream they were living, this life that they were creating for their families that was so much better than anything they could have hoped for in the old country, could be snatched away in an instant if they didn’t pay attention and actively participate in democracy. And that meant voting in every election.

Back in the early 90s, my sister and I went to Vietnam.  The US embargo of the country had not yet been formally lifted but there were already signs of an American cultural invasion. Rock and roll blasted on tape decks played on the streets at ear screeching level.  The ubiquitous T-shirt with the slogan of some American company was seen everywhere. Coke, Pepsi, hamburgers, fries – you name it and it was slowly but surely slipping into the daily life of what was then one of the poorest countries on earth.

Our guide remembered the American War as it is called in Vietnam and the patriotic fervor it produced in his generation.  Now, he complained, just one generation later, all the kids wanted were rock and roll and McDonald’s.  They didn’t want to study the revolution. They weren’t so interested in an old soldier’s stories.

It’s hard to keep the fervor of the revolution going once the revolution ends and what was once revolutionary becomes the norm. Slogans that once entranced the masses are transformed into government paperwork that has to be filled out in order to qualify for your pension. The glamour is gone. The hard work of building a nation begins.

If it’s hard to keep the fervor going after 30 years, I guess it’s darn near impossible to do it after 225 years.  And yet the risk that we run with our apathy is beyond measure. In a world in which some people walk three days just to get to a polling both and then camp overnight for a week to be able to cast a ballot, our inaction is a national shame.

And the reasons I hear for not voting are even more shameful. They run the gamut from not having time because they had to get their kid to soccer practice to not wanting to vote because then their name gets on a list for jury duty.  And my all time favorite – what does one vote matter.

On some level I should be glad more people don’t vote because everyone who doesn’t vote makes my vote that much stronger. I have my own personal rule that anyone who doesn’t vote is forbidden to ever complain about our elected leaders and their actions in my presence. They gave up that right when they didn’t vote. And I get spared mindless rants from apathetic citizens.

Personally, my idea for a solution to voter apathy is pretty simple.  Every adult who wants a PFD has to show two things – proof of residence and proof of voting in the last election.  No vote, no PFD.  You don’t deserve one.  Then all that extra PFD money could be divided among those of us who take being American citizens as a serious responsibility that comes with some overwhelmingly wonderful privileges. And I’d be able to buy that new red tricycle I’ve been eyeing for so long.