Only a bit more than half of eligible Americans vote in presidential elections. Almost every developed nation on earth has a higher voter turnout. Nearly half of Americans, that is, leave it to others to decide the country’s future.
There are many reasons why:
Some feel that there is no real difference between the parties. The differences between the parties are actually quite stark. Democrats and Republicans pursue extremely different outcomes for things like health care, economic well-being, the environment and the climate, and social fairness and equity — critical issues for all of us.
Some say they are sick of politicians, or they have decided to give up on politics. Flawed as individual politicians may be, they are the ones who make the decisions that affect our lives. One can escape from participation in elections (letting others determine how things will turn out), but one cannot escape from having to live with the effects of an election’s result.
Some believe that politics is all about money, or that elections are won by the one with the biggest pile of cash. Money plays too great a role in elections, and moneyed interests have too much influence on politicians. But money is not the whole story, as billionaire Michael Bloomfield’s expensive but dismal run for the Democratic nomination illustrated so well. More and more, small donors are making the difference in elections. Principled candidates who reject PAC and big-corporate money, and maintain independence after being elected, are gaining more and more traction.
Some think that the government is broken, stymied by ideological divisions, so that nothing will ever get done. As the American consensus shifts, and more people begin to agree that our country, and the world, need to take certain kinds of bold action to avert the challenges we face, the gridlock in Washington will lessen. At other crisis points in our history, great transformations were accomplished, driven by the will of the people.
Some think that they are not well-enough informed to make a decision. Social media and biased news sources make it hard to ferret out reliable information. But it is easy to learn the obvious distinctions between the parties and their candidates — by looking at their platforms and their records, and paying less attention to the interpretations of commentators.
Voting not only decides which candidates will win — it is also a crucial way to let those who are already in office know which issues you feel are most important. Politicians, by their nature, cannot ignore the voice of their constituents. It’s been said that “politicians have to listen, but only to those who vote.”
This is a particularly critical election, and everyone’s vote matters.
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Thom Krystofiak is a writer and software engineer living in Fairfield and a founder of Climate Action Iowa.