Among the few things that infuriate me are voters who don’t vote, people who don’t recognize the power and privilege of deciding who governs us.
This election cycle, in which nastiness has ruled and facts have gone missing, I’m hearing a lot more people say they plan to sit it out. They’re simply not casting their ballot. Not for president, or mayor, or congressman. That’s scary. Sure, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have a likeability problem, but that’s no excuse to pass up exercising a freedom for which so many have sacrificed their lives.
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In the 2012 presidential election, 57.5 percent of voters did exercise that right, a figure that is neither a high or a low point for a general-election year. Still, it means 93 million eligible citizens didn’t bother. In comparison to other democracies, we rank dismally low.
Midterm elections are especially embarrassing — in 2014, only 36.4 percent of us showed up to do our civic duty, a 72-year low — and the turnout for many local races is an abomination. This past August, only 20 percent of us voted in Miami. I bet that’s a lower percentage than the tally for such TV shows as, say, “Dancing with the Stars” or “The Voice.”
Those numbers are difficult to stomach for me, a daughter of political exiles, because I so clearly remember my determined grandmother hobbling to her polling center each and every election. Nothing could stop her. Spanish by birth, Cuban by choice, she had not been allowed to determine who would lead her governments until she landed in her third, and final, country. Why aren’t we all so eager and grateful? Even with the ease of early voting and mail-in ballots, far too many of us shirk this responsibility. Shame, shame.
I remain old-fashioned in this one particular habit. I still like to go to my friendly neighborhood polling place on actual election day, scope out both voters and poll workers, and then do my thing. My reward: an “I Voted” sticker.
I stand taller when that red-white-and-blue announcement is stuck to my blouse. I stand taller because it’s a pat on the back, a badge of good citizenship. Also, it impresses my grandchildren. And don’t think for a single second that our kids don’t notice. They do. Oh, they do.
For a while now, certain groups have been pushing to make voting compulsory, just like all citizens are called to serve on a jury. Several countries have implemented this, and the effort has increased turnout. Even President Barack Obama suggested the idea last year, as a way to counterattack what is a growing and undue influence of the very wealthy on U.S. elections.
Frankly, I’m not sure how well it would work. People who don’t care, who are uninformed and disengaged, might exercise their civic duty in the worst way possible, inanely bubbling in their ballots. Then again, some argue that’s not so much different from the status quo — a thought that is more depressing than Trump at a United Nations gathering.
For those who have told me or written me that they’re too upset, or too confused, or too repulsed to vote, here’s my message: Get over it.
Vote out of disgust.
Vote out of fear.
Vote with or without enthusiasm.
Vote because you hate one of the candidates more than you love the other one.
Vote because you’re an American.
Vote because it may be the most important thing you do for your country this year.