Over half the nation’s registered voters are expected to stay home from the polls this year. The lessons of the Bicentennial taught us that the Colonists fought mightily to get the vote. Now it seems no one wants it anymore.
Josiah Lee Auspitz (a Republican strategist) and Mark Shields (a Democratic political consultant) are two members of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
After taking a long look at the increasing alienation of the American voter, they’ve come up with some varied — and vital — reasons why, come Tuesday, you should head right for the ballot box.
Be an active participant in a self-governing society
By Josiah Lee Auspitz
My mother once made the front page of a newspaper just by voting in a Congressional election. She was in the hospital recovering from major surgery, and on election day, ordered a private ambulance to take her across town to the polls.
A poll watcher alerted a reporter, who learned my mother was a recently naturalized US citizen from Czechoslovakia, a country whose elected leaders had been murdered in the Communist coup d’état of 1948. Her act, the reporter concluded, was a testimonial to democracy. But most people told me my mother had foolishly risked her health for a “not very important” election.
In 20th-century America, there is no such thing as a “very important” election. The United States, as Woodrow Wilson remarked, is one country in which you don’t change the basic form of government by changing the man who heads it. Even when American elections mark fundamental turning points, they have more to do with continuity than with upheaval.
Voting is neither a way to change the world quickly, nor an act of protest. It certainly isn’t necessarily a sign of wholehearted approval of the candidates. At its heart, voting is neither more nor less than an act of civic affirmation.
But in the United States, a smaller percentage of citizens votes than in any major democracy. Maybe you’ ve noticed that China and Russia have voting turnouts approaching 100 percent for their one-party elections.
And obviously, as long as American voting remains voluntary, turnout will be lower than in other countries. But too much nonvoting is a sign of a general apathy that goes beyond politics. In America, our nonvoter is less likely to attend church, to belong to a club, labor union, P.T.A., service or sports organization.
The person who says he will vote only when a good candidate comes along is the type who thinks he should only go to church when he has something specific to pray for.
A free country has a place for such people. But it will not remain free for long if their views predominate.
So there is a strong reason for voting regularly, even when one is not enamored of the candidates or has no great illusions about affecting the results: It is a way of affirming that one is an active participant in a self-governing society — a society free enough to allow people not to vote.
In all likelihood, this election will be similar to those three. You and your vote will probably change history.
2) In 1976, you and your vote will count more than in any other election in your lifetime. On Election Day, according to a recent national survey, a majority of Americans eligible to vote may very well not vote. This means that our next President will almost certainly take office with the humbling knowledge that over 70 percent of his fellow citizens who could have voted for him did not do so.
Therefore, in this election, your vote will count more than ever — perhaps even twice as much.
3) The Government cannot govern without criticism.
Elected officials listen much more attentively to voters than to non-voters. So if you think there will be any time in the next four years that you may wish to disrespectfully dissent from any Presidential policy vote, it’s your political license to beef.