Sunday, October 25, 2015

We Need More People to Vote

We are a little over one year away from the 2016 elections, which will include deciding who will become the 45th President of the United States   The election coming up will be a consequential election in that like 2008, we will be voting for someone to lead the country who is not an incumbent, a sitting Vice-President, or the clear leader of either political party.   This election will also see two very different forms of populism in action, with the campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and businessman Donald Trump both espousing a perspective that has caught the interest of the American people in a way we haven't seen for some time.   The energy from these two non-establishment campaigns is high and garnering much attention from both the general electorate and the media.  The messaging coming from these campaigns and the resulting interest from the populace suggests we may see a high degree of participation in the upcoming election process.   I hope so, because in general we have been rather pathetic in exercising our right to vote.  

The upcoming contest by whomever wins the two parties nominations will of course take center stage in the process, and will likely drive more people to the polls.  In 2012, when President Obama was challenged by former governor Mitt Romney, we saw about 58% of the eligible voters turn out and cast a ballot for their favorite candidate.  That election, like most presidential elections generated a higher than average voter participation than the "off-year" elections like 2014, where a dismal 36% of eligible voters decided it was worth their time to vote.  

It is a curious reality that we have such low voter participation, especially when there is so much to be done in our country.  Our nation is still slowly recovering from the financial crisis of 2008. We are still embroiled in conflict overseas.  More than 45 million people are still living at or below the poverty line, which by the way equates to about 1 of every 5 children in this country living in poverty.  Our collective ambivalence towards voting is surprising given the current state of affairs within our county.  The current crop of candidates vying for the Presidency are highlighting these issues in a variety of ways.   We have candidates who have suggested our economic woes are the result of illegal immigration, or criminal bankers and greedy corporations.  We have candidates who have decided that issues like marriage equality have caused us to lose our way as a country and somehow the problems we're facing are retribution from an angry God.  We have candidates who suggest that anyone who is a Muslim is not to be trusted and they would go so far to limit the 1st Amendment protections of freedom of religion to those who are of the Christian faith. We have candidates who will never suggest that the gun violence in this country might have anything to do with the fact that there are over 300 million guns within our borders.    Each has put their marker out there and suggested that they have a solution to put us on the right path.  This is expected. Each Presidential election is ripe with allegations that we're somehow "broken" and it's the fault of the other party, the other person, or the the other political philosophy. Each candidate offers a solution that usually is the opposite of what the other side is doing. There are very few people running for office today suggesting that we have to find a way to work together to solve problems.  The best strategy, according to the political operatives and pundits, are to divide and highlight the differences in order to garner as much energy as possible against the other side.

It is understandable. We've made our election process into sport. Our campaigns look like pep rallies for our favorite football team. The objective is to win, and then to govern in a manner that makes the other side look silly.   The hard work of governing comes after the conventions, the elections and the inaugurations, and then is often given a back seat to fund raising and preparation for the next election.  Some estimates from people who look at this process for a living, suggest that over 2 Billion dollars will be spent to find out who the next President of the United States will be.  There is big money to be made in our election process, and the more money brought in, the longer the process becomes.  It seems we are now in a round-the-clock campaign posture.  It is not surprising to hear that when a member of the House of Representatives is elected today, the moment after he or she is sworn in, they have to give a disproportionate percentage of their time to getting re-elected.  This takes them away from the business at hand which is to legislate on behalf of the people who sent them to Washington.   Today, a member of Congress will spend roughly 40-50% of their time getting reelected. They will, on average have to raise about $10,000 per week in order to run a viable campaign to hold their job.  That means, that with the 435 members of the House, each has to generate about $1.2 million in campaign funds and spend almost half their time fund raising and campaigning for an election that occurs every two years.  The numbers are mind boggling, especially when we consider how evidently little we Americans care about this.   If we cannot get more than 50% of the eligible voters to the polls with all of this campaigning and spending, then one must ask What's the point?   Well, the point is, if we don't get more people to the polls then we'll continue on as we are, which is dysfunctional, and we'll keep kicking the hard problems down the road.  I don't see that as a recipe for a good future. Indeed, should we continue to be as ho hum about voting as we are, we might soon see a government that is very different than what we are accustomed to.  By virtue of apathy, we could see massive change occur and it will likely be change we do not necessarily want.  Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes, and if we aren't there to decide how we want our government to behave, someone else will.

We have a right to participate in our government.  We have a democratic republic.  We are supposed to be serious about who we want to elect to represent us and decide the rules we all will live by.  Most people (at least 64% in the 2014 election) cannot be bothered to vote.   We have a right to vote.  We also have an obligation to vote.   The election in 2016 will see a higher voter turnout than 2014 because of the Presidential campaign.  That's to be expected. But it is curious and somewhat disheartening to expect less than 60% of the eligible voters in the nation will bother to cast a ballot.  If we don't participate, then we are relegated to accept what is given us.  It seems to me that no one, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, religious or non-religious should want to just accept what is given.  

There is an opportunity for us as a nation to get off of our collective backsides and do our jobs.  We need to get informed on who best represents our values, who best resolves our issues, and who best represents what we think how the country should be governed.  If we put ourselves into the process as seriously as we can, get as knowledgeable on the candidates and issues as we can, then we can say we've done our part.  If we don't and we are unhappy with the outcomes or still believe that it doesn't matter who is elected, then the fault does not lie with who gets to go to Washington, the fault lies with us.