Why Not Vote?
I have friends who vote and friends who do not. To those who don’t vote, I would say this: the stakes are higher than losing your right to complain. Voting is the heart of democracy, the benefits of which we all enjoy, even when things don’t go your way.
This year we might hear that some 60 percent of Americans vote during a presidential election year, and that the rate varies according to age and ethnic group.
The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that, in 2010, Hispanic voters were 7 percent of all voters (an increase), blacks were 12 percent (no increase from 1998), while the percentage of voters who are Asian has been about the same for 20 years.
Older people are more likely to vote: in 2010, 21 percent of 18- to 24-year-old citizens voted, compared with 61 percent of those 65-plus.
In the 2008 presidential election, a whopping 15 million eligible voters did not vote. A third of them said they either were too busy or that they didn’t like any of the candidates or campaign issues.
Twice as bad as that, 30 million potential voters never even registered to vote. The biggest reason: 14 million said they’re “not interested in the election” or “not involved in politics.”
(Another study, by the Pew Center, says that the number of unregistered eligible voters is closer to an astounding 50 million.)
I recently asked some friends about why they did or didn’t vote. Those of us who vote regularly were taken aback by what we heard.
A Few Pathetic Excuses
One friend said, “The lines are too long.” Another suggested frustration that some of those who do vote express: “My vote isn’t changing anything—my side always loses.” A variation of that is, “There’s no point. I just stopped.”
Some younger friends (and some relatives) told me, “I move too much,” or, “It’s a pain—you have to register and all of that. It’s hard.”
One told me, “The Bush vs. Gore election was a catastrophe. It showed that the popular vote doesn’t count.”
Finally, there is one refrain that we’ve all heard a time too many: “My vote isn’t going to change the outcome.”
There is an old story that might shed some light. One day a man was fishing along a stream when he saw a person in the water, screaming for help. He jumped into the water and dragged the poor soul up to the bank.
No sooner had he rescued that person than another came floating downstream, arms flailing. Then another. The man found himself diving into the water again and again to rescue all of these people being dragged downstream by a strong current.
When the man’s fishing partner showed up, the first man hollered, “Help me rescue these people!” His friend replied, “No way! I’m going to run upstream and stop whoever’s throwing them into the water!”
Our nation is a lot like that today, no matter where you might fall on the political spectrum. We have enormous social problems. People are suffering poverty day in and day out.
The legally sanctioned outright killing of thousands and thousands of our unborn is horrible, almost beyond belief. We are destroying our earth with a lifestyle that is anything but the stewardship called for from the beginning of humanity.
Is it really OK to complain that voting is either inconvenient or ineffective? The slogan from our national emblem is true: E Pluribus Unum, “from the many, one.” We need to get our act together and act together rather than check out of the game.
Five Good Reasons to Vote
My voting friends offered good reasons to vote.
1. We should vote because we can vote. If you need more on that, ask anyone who has lived without the right to elect political leadership.
2. You owe it to your country to participate. We do, after all, live under a kind of social contract. We reap the benefits of society; we should, in turn, contribute to society.
3. Many local issues are on the ballot. Those local elections—whether it be support of schools, libraries, social services, or community leadership— can hinge on a handful of votes.
4. The ballot box is one place for us to use our informed consciences for the good. Our bishops remind us of that each voting season.
5. For Catholics, voting ought to be an expression of our faith. No, it’s not going to church, and it’s not overseen by any Church authority.
But voting is our chance to uphold human dignity. We each can hold our heads high, stand up, and be counted—even if things don’t go our way. We can devote our energy—in the voting booth—to protecting the dignity and rights of others, whether it be the right to life or the right to live beyond poverty.
We are a free people, our faith tells us. Voting is one way we express that.