Historically, the “turnout” statistics of eligible voters for presidential elections in America is abysmal. It generally ranges about 55%, Of course, not voting is a choice as well. But this year is proving to be very different with more than 90 million votes already cast, around two-thirds of the total case in the last election, and it’s not yet Election Day.
A while back, I wondered whether there would be a huge turnout or this election would be a huge dud. It appears that I’ve got my answer. Much of it comes from the efforts to register and motivate demographics that traditionally didn’t bother to vote, particularly the 18 to 29 cohort.
Some comes from the effort to re-enfranchise groups that were forbidden to vote, like people with prior felony convictions. And then there’s “the push,” the effort to energize potential voters to get off their butts and actually do it, whether by physically going to votes or putting a ballot in the mail.
Voting is a civic right. It differs from other rights in the sense that we can’t do it at our leisure or when we decide that now is the time to exercise this right. We do it when there’s an election and in accordance with the rules for voting. Unlike the right to free speech, which we exercise at will, voting is a right to be exercised within a civic framework. As it happens, that framework is happening now.
And from all indications, Americans are finally exercising that right to vote. They are mailing in. They are showing up. They are voting. As well they should. For better or worse, this is our country and the candidates are the people who will have enormous influence over our lives and futures. Regardless of which candidate you favor or why, every American who can vote should vote.
About a week ago, I received an email about a webinar to instruct people how to vote by mail. There have been videos, including one by President Obama, instructing people how to manage their mail-in ballots. It’s entirely understandable why this is needed and why it’s happening, as it’s important that ballots be submitted correctly so they aren’t rejected for failing to adhere to the instructions. After all, an otherwise legitimate vote that’s rejected for failure to be completed properly is no vote at all.
Yet, this raised the cloud in front of the silver lining of a huge voter turnout. If someone lacks the capacity to fill out a ballot without video instructions, are they up to the task of offering a vote on our next president? And lest anyone think this is one-sided, the same could be said, perhaps moreso, of anyone stupid enough to think blocking a bridge and highway with trucks and infuriating thousands of people is a smart way to get them to vote for the geniuses’ candidate.
There is no intelligence test to vote. No voter will be asked to name the three branches of government or even their two senators. The right to vote is ours as Americans, even if influenced by a crude and ignorant candidate who lies shamelessly or a candidate who spouts empty platitudes and is running on the “I’m not the vulgarian” platform. No one is required to justify their vote. They just get to vote.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as fear gripped the nation that big money PACs would exert an undue influence over our political knowledge, I argued that this was a test of our democracy.
It’s not like we don’t know that these influences exist and are being used to manipulate public opinion. Some may reflect legitimate, fact-based opinion. Others may be flights of fantasy, deliberately deceiving us into hating those they want us to hate.
Democracy takes work. Nobody promised that it would be easy to maintain a free nation without getting out of the recliner, except for bathroom breaks during commercials.
That was back in 2010, before we routinely got our civic information from social media. Some wag on twitter made a funny last night.
Two nights before Election Day, an important reminder: If your candidate doesn’t win, it’s because you, personally, did not tweet enough.
Social media is in a frenzy, with warring tribes attack each other’s twits as if that’s some sort of substitute for voting and will certainly change the outcome. Granted, people are passionate, if not hysterical, as election day approaches, and they are politically engaged, even if politically ignorant.
We have become a lazy people. We sit on the couch and wait to be told what we think. We can stand up for ourselves any time we want. We can laugh off hate-filled messages or facile manipulation, knowing that it’s just some special interest trying to spin our heads around. We know what they are doing. We can choose to be smarter and better than to blindly accept it.
The only force more powerful than unconstrained corporate cash is a knowledgeable and thoughtful citizenry. Maybe this is the kick in the butt we need to resume our rightful place in the democratic process. It’s entirely up to us.
We get the president we deserve, “good and hard” as Mencken wryly noted. We’ve become less lazy than we were in 2010 in that people are finally exercising their franchise, playing their part in the political process that decide who will shape their future, for better or worse. But have we become energized enough to exercise our right to vote for good reasons?
On the one hand, the newspaper of record has told us everyday for the past four years why Darth Cheeto is literally Hitler. In contrast, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has endorsed President Trump, the first time it has supported a Republican presidential nominee since 1972, largely because it views the threat of progressive reinvention of American greater than one concededly repugnant man. This isn’t to say you should go one way or the other, but you should consider both before deciding. No one can make you think. No one will require proof of thinking before allowing you to cast your ballot. Thinking is hard and can make your head hurt. Still, think.
Every eligible voter should exercise the civic right to vote. Every eligible voter should make the effort to vote wisely, whatever that means to the voter. Like it or not, there will be an outcome and it will affect your lives. Blaming isn’t going to change that.