According to U.S. Census Bureau and other statistics, just under 80% of those Americans eligible to vote register to vote. Whether or not someone plans to vote, at least be registered and thus have the option in the event circumstances change and they wish to vote. More puzzling to me is the fact that on average, only 60% of eligible voters participate in Presidential elections and only 40% participate in midterm elections. The numbers drop even lower for off-year elections.
These numbers present a serious dilemma. This means that approximately 31% of the electorate determines who becomes President and 21% of the electorate determines control of Congress in midterms. By not voting, especially in these numbers, Americans are ceding control of our country to the whims of a relatively small minority of voters rather than bona fide “majority rules” results. Not everyone is happy after each election, especially after more contentious battles. The feeling of discontent is justified in the fact that the result was generated by weak turnout, but also not justified considering it could be different if more people voted.
One reason for habitually lower voter turnout is displeasure with the major candidates. In some cases, voters see it as the lesser of two evils. Maybe that is the case sometimes, but voters should not shun the good to wait for the perfect. Because they do not agree with a candidate on every issue or because the candidate is imperfect in some way, too many voters choose to stay home. Those who do not vote have no right to complain about the results and the impact on the country. The lower the turnout, the smaller the percentage of Americans who determine the direction of the country. Elections have consequences and they are too important to sit out just because a candidate is not ideologically perfect. Somebody worse may win…
By sitting out and waiting for the perfect candidate, voters allow the other side to win. President Trump won the 2016 election because of approximately 77,000 votes over three states to capture the electoral votes required. It is safe to argue that there were far more than 77,000 voters in those three states and elsewhere who stayed home because Hillary Clinton was an imperfect candidate. It is equally safe to argue those voters regretted their decision when it led to a Trump victory. Not every election will be decided with a clear mandate, but elections should reflect the true will of the people.
Citizens have the choice whether to vote. I believe it is a civic duty to vote. However, voting requires an informed decision. Voters should take the time to understand the candidates and issues on the ballot. There is tremendous misinformation, including false negative ads run by advocacy groups. Do not go to the polls fooled about the candidates and issues you intend to support. We do not vote that often and it is not too much to ask for the citizenry to have at least a basic knowledge. I can respect votes for the other side of my own views so long as the individual understands and believes in their choices. I am deeply saddened by the number of voters who repeat what are patently false labels and allow those to influence their decisions. We can do better. The country needs us all to do better.
There is a related crisis that requires all of us to speak out and speak up. There are illegal voter suppression efforts in many states, often aimed at lower income and minority communities. Evidence suggests this is a Republican tactic to improperly influence the results of elections and help their candidates in races they fear are too close or lean Democratic. These nefarious efforts include limiting the number of polling places in targeted areas to create significant hardship for voters in those communities and discourage them from voting. Some cannot travel the extra distance or take the extra time needed while others are frustrated by the extra-long lines and give up. In other places, officials close the polls early or while there are still voters waiting in line (which is illegal), preventing them from casting a ballot.
In some locations, officials manipulate voter registration, creating “clerical errors” that tend to disqualify people that had actually registered to vote. For example, in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Kemp, who is in a tight race for Governor, has reportedly invalidated over 50,000 new voter registrations this year that come primarily from minority and Democratic neighborhoods. Since 2012, he has canceled over 1.4 million registrations. These individuals are not told in advance, so when they show up to vote, they are turned away, told there is a problem with their registration, but not told what the problem is in order to fix it. The clear result is the improper suppression of these votes which tactic will work to the advantage of GOP candidates.
There are widespread efforts exploiting social media and the internet intended to suppress or impact the vote. These efforts push known fabricated, often inflammatory stories about a candidate to weaken support for that candidate. This is part of what Russian operatives were doing in 2016 to hurt candidate Clinton. However, not all such enemies of democracy are foreign. There are domestic political action groups, predominantly focused on advocating for conservative issues, doing much the same thing in races across the country. These repugnant misinformation campaigns may result in even greater voter suppression as voters may be influenced to stay home or switch their support after reading the stories and mistakenly believing the messages.
I would much rather lose an election based on accurate vote counts and an honest campaign than win an election by fraud, disenfranchising voters, and spreading entirely fictitious stories. The election process must be sacred. Anyone claiming they are fit to serve and lead this nation at any level should agree. Yet these reprehensible efforts continue. Due to this and other troublesome aspects of contemporary elections, many Americans are prevented from voting or choose not to vote. The U.S. represents the birth of democracy. We have fought wars for almost 250 years to preserve it. People from around the world fight to come here just to experience democracy and vote. People need to be informed and they need to go to the polls. It is our country and our future at stake. Do not let the enemies of democracy win.