Voting – A Civic Duty

From my early days in college, I have assisted with voter registration. The right to vote and the ability to have my voice heard is important to me. I remember when Civics was a required course in high school. I also remember the civil rights and feminist movements. When I began elementary school, all females were required to wear skirts – even in public schools. When I attended high school, I was told to take home economics and typing classes. I was discouraged from taking college prep courses because, as my female school counselor stated, attending college would be just a way to find a husband. Needless to say, I ignored this advice. When I graduated from college, I was aware that I would only make 60% of what males with same the educational background would make in the workforce.

For me, I have been able to see the power of the determined voter. I have seen much social and economic change in my life time. The LGBTQ community is currently experiencing what the civil rights movement experienced in the 60’s and the feminist movement experienced in the 70’s. Socio-economic change is slow. It takes time, money, and effort to create these changes. For every push to create change, there is an equal, opposite pull in the other direction to maintain the status quo. The dance between these two is necessary. Sudden change can create chaos and instability. Still, change is necessary to advance and grow. This is why the democratic process is so important. It is truly important to point-counter point every issue – social, political, and economic. With every challenge to move forward and every attempt to resist change, our society achieves growth through careful, deliberate actions of compromise.

This year, I have volunteered to canvas for my chosen candidate and assist with voter registration. I have to say, in 2012, I am still continuously surprised at the number of people who choose not to vote. The reason of justification varies and these are just a few arguments I have recently heard:

  • I feel like there isn’t a real choice;
  • All politicians are crooks;
  • I don’t have time to educate myself on all the candidates and ballot measures;
  • I just don’t care.

Voting is a constitutional right our forefathers fought hard to secure during the founding of this country. We have recently seen what is referred to as the ‘Arab Spring,’ where many countries in the Middle East have fought to have the right to vote in free, democratic elections. They have valiantly challenged decades-long dictatorships, risking life and an upset in the socio-economic status quo. Establishing a democracy is a chaotic process. The opportunity to choose a country’s destiny through an electoral process far outweighs any form of fascist or totalitarian systems of government.

Why is it that many Americans seem so disenfranchised from the voting process? In my state, we have mail-in ballots, early voting centers, and the election day precincts. This state has done everything in its power to make voting as easy and accessible as possible. I can think of only a handful of reasons why someone would be unable to vote in my state. These conditions are definitely valid reasons and include the following:

  • Traumatic injury;
  • Debilitating illness;
  • Mentally ill;
  • Mentally disabled;
  • Experiencing the death process.

I just cannot think of any other valid reason why someone couldn’t vote in this election. If you can think of one, please feel free to share in the comment thread below.

I am also surprised by the number of people who state they are still undecided. Really? The media saturation – including tv commercials, print, news outlets, canvassers, social media, campaign appearances – has provided an onslaught of information about the candidates for over a year.  Two months ago that I received my voter handbook, outlining all the ballot issues and candidates for both the national and state elections. The information about specific candidates and issues is readily available. It just takes some time and effort to educate oneself. The slick commercials and hype offer only a fraction of information and, honestly, we should question the integrity of attack ads. These ads are presented in a way to invoke an emotional response instead of promoting the use of critical thinking and judgment. By far, the more in-depth media programs, like Meet the Press or many of the NPR programs, can offer more balanced presentations and insights of political campaigns and ballot issues.

Billions of dollars have been spent on this most recent election. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to put a cap on this high-handed spending on campaigns?  Can you imagine all the other, more beneficial ways this money can be spent? This money could be used to pay down the national debt, bolster education and health care, or support the maintenance of the infrastructure of this country. I am quite sure the candidates really don’t like this aspect of running for a public office. Fundraising is a tedious, tiring undertaking.  The question remains: Why is our electoral process so expensive? Why do these candidates have to raise and spend so much money to run for a position? I believe candidates and ballot issue campaigns have a common enemy. This enemy is of our own making; it is known as voter apathy. For all the reasons I listed above as to why people choose not to vote, these are the core reasons why it is necessary to spend so much money on campaigns.

Candidates and ballot-issue organizations have to jump through hoops to grab our attention and coax us to vote. Not only do they want a favorable vote – which is necessary to win – they also have to create a passion for us to vote in the first place. In reality, we have contributed to this ugly process of campaigning in America. The voting apathy has helped to create an almost circus-like atmosphere in the political arena. Candidates, PAC groups, political parties, and mysteriously-financed groups have saturated media outlets to dazzle us with their promises of ‘happier days’ and sling enough mud to attack and discredit their opponents. This over-saturation in itself can create something similar to voter apathy. It is called voter fatigue. Our election process has become so lengthy and ugly, many voters lose interest before election day. These are not apathetic voters. These are people who had every intention to partake in the voting process but the election process decreased their desire to participate. In a nutshell, voter apathy causes voter fatigue for those who intended to participate.

So, what can we do to combat voter apathy? First and foremost, citizens need to exercise their right to vote.  We should encourage our family, friends, acquaintances, peers, and co-workers to vote. We need voting participation in general elections, midterm elections, and local elections. We need to counter voting indifference with civic duty and interest. By having positive conversations about why we support issues and candidates, we can use these conversations to enlighten others and incite voter interest. I firmly believe if we focus our conversations on the negative aspects of the opposite side, we risk creating apathy and fatigue in our audience.

I can personally attest that there is an added benefit to mail-in ballots and early voting.  When my mail-in ballot was received earlier this month by the county clerk, my political party knew this fact within days of receipt. I no longer receive the barrage of reminder phone calls or canvassers at my door. By voting early, I actually prevented myself from experiencing voter fatigue. The following four words have stopped the politicking process for me and these are four words I am proud to state: I have already voted. I hope today you, too, will have the opportunity to say the same phrase. 

Happy Election Day 2012!

Laura L. Roberts