Columns 2016

Your vote is your power

I’m writing this before the final vote in Tuesday’s primary election. While I may not be able to name the winners and losers in contested seats, I feel pretty safe in saying that the turnout was dismal. I can predict this because that’s the way it almost always is.

Perhaps the upcoming presidential election will push more people out of their chairs and into a voting booth in November just because the rhetoric in that election is so very loud, angry and divisive. Or perhaps a lot of Americans will do a lot of ranting and raving about the election and then not show up to vote because they believe it doesn’t matter. In their heads, they have no power, never get a candidate who actually represents their views, and were at the health club so couldn’t get to the polls before they closed.

Imagine going to parts of the world like Africa or the Mid-East and telling them you don’t believe your vote is worth the effort. They will be flabbergasted that you don’t understand just how powerful a vote is.

If everyone who thought their candidate never won actually voted, there is a good chance the person they backed would have a much better chance at winning. What non-voters don’t want to hear is that their non-vote for their candidate is a vote for the candidate they oppose. So to all the people who didn’t bother to vote yesterday, a lot of people you probably don’t like are running for office now and you have no one to blame but yourself.

America led the way in giving its citizens the right to choose their leaders by a free, private vote. You can tell anyone anything you like on your way into that voting booth, if only to shut them up about their candidate, but once you pull that curtain closed, no one… absolutely no one… knows how you really voted.

We are so blasé about our right to vote that we forget how rare this privilege still is in most of the world. We are so inured to the hideous politics that seem to be at the center of most of our elections that we turn the sound off and disappear into our own happy place, leaving the voting to those who still have the stomach to make it to the polls. All of which, once again, goes a long way towards explaining why we have the candidates on the ballot who are there. They may not be anyone we like but they are there because enough people who liked them bothered to go out and vote.

So yesterday’s voting probably ended with more of a whimper than a bang. I’m willing to bet that no one faced long lines to vote. I’m willing to bet that most poll workers could have read War and Peace in between voters coming in, and that’s just so, so sad. We sit here in America with perks and privileges that we take so much for granted and that so much of the rest of the world looks to with envy. For most of us, a bang in the night more likely means a car backfiring than a gun or a bomb. For most of us, a trip to the store is fraught with no more danger or tension than is involved in picking the best watermelon.

But for a lot of the world, bangs at night and trips to buy groceries come with the real danger of bombs and guns. So we Americans need to get a grip on what it means to belong to a country this great that offers us such safety and protection. And we need to get off our duffs on election days and vote. We need to move pass the apathy and get engaged and involved again with our democracy or it is no longer a democracy. We might think we can never lose what we have but we can.

Rome ruled the world for over 500 years as it morphed from a republic to an empire and then fell. I’m sure if you’d asked contemporary Romans, they’d have said that the Empire would last forever. It didn’t. If we don’t start participating in our democracy, there is no guarantee we’ll survive either.

The vote is your power. Use it.