And We Let These People Vote…

… but they don’t do it.  As you may have seen, it was widely reported that voter turnout for the election last week was the lowest since 1942, when the population may have been preoccupied by other matters. As tabulated by the United States Election Project , only 36.4% of the population eligible to do so voted. Within individual states there was a wide-ranging result.  Indiana had the worst voter turnout at 28% and Maine had the best at 59.3%.  While non-presidential election years are historically lower than when the presidency is up for election, such a low turnout is shameful.

There is much speculation as to why Americans do not vote and I cannot pretend to know why there is such low turnout.  Some speculate that the low turnout this year was the result of a voter “protest” — not voting so as to show displeasure with the candidates.  If this is the case, then I am not sure what impact those citizens thought that they were going to have.  Somebody is going to get elected whether or not everyone votes.  Non-voting only allows the respective base voters to dictate the results.  Anyone that did not vote (and allowing for the fact that there are some people who were truly unable to vote for circumstance beyond their control) has no right to complain about the course our country takes with its incoming crop of elected officials.  Not voting to protest the candidates is about as silly of a logic train as I can imagine in a democracy.  As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and not voting increases the likelihood that as a society, we are not going to like those consequences.

I also truly hope that in the next two years (until the next election) I do not hear any politician of any stripe saying “what the American people want” based on the outcome of this election cycle.  How can anyone possibly know what all of America wants (no one ever calls me to ask), especially when only about one-third of our fellow citizens participated.  The primary purpose of an election in this country is to allow the American people to indicate what they want.  I cannot believe that nearly two-thirds of the country simply does not care.

Some western nations — most famously Australia — have mandatory voting.  I do not advocate that as I am not sure that it would work in our society and I can think of some serious “cons” to the “pro” of getting everyone involved.  At least it would eliminate the need for the millions of dollars spent this year to get out the vote, money that could best be spent on other things, although I suppose it does help the economy, or at least the advertising industry and political consultants.  The biggest argument against it in my mind (besides our national aversion to mandatory anything having to do with government) is that it would lead to people voting for officials or ballot measures of which little to nothing is known by the voter. Although that happens enough as it is.

The irony of this low voter turnout was brought home to me on Tuesday with the celebration of Veteran’s Day.  Universally, people from all walks of life thanked our service men and women for their devotion to our country.  Many in their tributes mentioned the right to vote and how precious that right is to us.  A better tribute to our veterans than celebrity public service announcements would be for people to actually go out and vote.  The defense of that right comes at a high cost.  A visit to Arlington National Cemetery, especially Section 60 where many veterans of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, is a stark reminder.  I have occasion to visit the National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland from time to time.  One only has to spend about five minutes in any part of the hospital to see the tragic results of sending our young men and women to war.  The results impact not only the lives of these young veterans, but also their families and friends.  All are easy to spot and none ask for our sympathy or for anything else.  I am amazed at their positive spirit and determination.

I often think of the young people I see there when I hear our elected leaders arguing for military involvement in this spot or another.  It becomes real when you visit Section 60 or the military hospital in Bethesda.  It would be good for all of our leaders to think beyond the political abstract and think in terms of real people being asked to sacrifice their future and their lives.  These young folks will answer the call to go in harm’s way, but to them such decisions are not abstractions or theories or political gamesmanship.  It is real.

And yet, we can only muster 36.4% of our eligible voters that manage to make it the polls.

2 Comments on “And We Let These People Vote…”

  1. Mark kohring says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Tom. Have you seen any statistics on voter turnout by age groups? None of my three thirty-something children voted (despite encouragement from both parents) so I wonder if the younger citizens are more to blame than the boomers and older Americans.

    • Tom says:

      Without going into all of the data, currently and historically the percentage of older eligible voters that go the the polls tends to be higher than for younger voters. Thus, the attempts by various candidates to “energize” younger voters to get them to the polls. Likewise, the reason they tend to cater to older voters, such as Congress not really addressing needed changes in Social Security or Medicare.

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