"Civic responsibility is not a new concept. Church leaders have stressed its importance from the beginning, and members have been actively involved as concerned citizens or political candidates throughout history...
In fact, voter turnout in the U.S. has rarely exceeded 60 percent in the last century. And unlike the days past when political parties paid voters in cash, or offered a barrel of flour or keg of whiskey to those who cast a ballot in their favor (live pigs were given to voters during the 1890 New Hampshire Congressional race), U.S. voters now have little incentive to cast their ballot unless they view the act as a duty and a privilege.
But even with the historic nature of this November’s presidential election, voter turnout may not be as high as one might expect, if you use history as a predictor. For example, in 1960, 63 percent of eligible citizens voted. According to the Federal Election Commission, by 1996 that number had dropped to 49 percent; however, voter turnout for the 2004 elections rose to nearly 57 percent—the highest since 1968 and possibly driven by the war in Iraq and the razor-thin victory of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.
Many people don’t vote because they believe their ballot won’t make a difference in the overall election results. Some feel that no matter who is in office, nothing ever changes. And others have become disillusioned by the political process as they watch candidates spend millions of dollars, mount personal attacks on their opponents, and make deals with special interest groups to win their endorsements—to the point that neither candidate appeals to them, and they wash their hands of any voter participation. But in the end, these attitudes only contribute to the problem further.
In his article entitled “Why Vote?” Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, wrote, “When voting is voluntary, and the chance that the result will be determined by any single person’s vote is extremely low, even the smallest cost—for example, the time it takes to stroll down to the polling place, wait in line, and cast a ballot—is sufficient to make voting seem irrational. Yet, if many people follow this line of reasoning, and do not vote, a minority of the population can determine a country’s future, leaving a discontented majority.”
Singer then sites Poland’s electoral history as an example. He writes, “In the 2005 national elections, barely 40 percent of those eligible voted . . . As a result, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was able to become prime minister . . . despite receiving only six million votes out of a total of thirty million eligible voters.”
Two years later, when Kaczynski was up for re-election, voters turned out in greater numbers, and he was heavily defeated.
Your vote is your voice—your chance to represent yourself in local, state, and federal elections. The candidates and causes you believe in cannot be guaranteed success without your vote. But before you go to the polls, here are some things to consider:
If you aren’t registered to vote already, there may still be time! In many states, voters must register thirty days before an election, but not all states have this requirement. Call your county clerk’s office to find out if you still have time, and how to register. Or, register online at websites like declareyourself.org or justvote.org.
You can’t choose the best candidate if you can’t make an educated vote. Don’t depend on other people to explain the issues to you, or tell you which candidate believes what. Find out for yourself.
In your mind, what are the major issues your country faces? What issues is each candidate emphasizing? And what solutions are each offering? In addition to their positions, consider the character of the candidates. Ask yourself questions like, “Why do I trust one candidate more than another? What are their perceived strengths and weaknesses? And who do they associate with?”
Websites like ontheissues.org provide detailed voting records of many U.S. politicians, including John McCain and Barack Obama. In addition, both presidential candidates (and most politicians) have their own websites where they state their positions on a number of important issues. Check out barackobama.com/issues and johnmccain.com/informing/issues to learn more about the presidential candidates.
Keep Emotions in Check
Studies show that emotions heavily impact most voting decisions. Try to set emotions aside as you watch campaign ads, and don’t get sucked in with catchy slogans. Instead, scrutinize them to see if they actually increase your understanding of the candidate and his ability to make tough decisions. What are the 2008 presidential candidates’ campaign slogans? Barack Obama: Change we need. John McCain: Country first.
Also consider if you’re voting for a candidate because of one specific issue. Is that the only reason? Or do you share his or her overall vision for your country and community?
After you have chosen to support a candidate, don’t be afraid to get involved in his or her campaign. Donate money, work the phones, stuff envelopes, or volunteer other talents. Someone is going to be elected—it may as well be the person you believe is best for the job.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a presidential election, but don’t forget the state and local elections. You involvement will have the greatest impact on your local community as you campaign for city council members, school board members, and other local officials. Better yet, become a candidate yourself. The surest way to improve the political system is for good, honest people to enter the race and raise the standards for politicians.
The ballot is our connection to our country’s political process. It provides us with a way to express to our leaders what we think about a number of important issues that affect not only our lives, but the lives of future generations. Voting also serves to protect our freedoms—a democracy can’t survive unless its citizens participate in the political process. So go to the polls, let your voice be heard, and leave your own mark on history, wherever you live."
excerpts from: Your Vote Counts by Jamie Lawson -Tuesday, October 28, 2008 found at:
A Letter to the Editor
3 years ago