The Vox Populi is Far Too Quiet

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I spent the last couple of months working on the board of education elections here in Buffalo. More disappointing than the results, was the absolutely pitiful turnout. Somewhere in the vicinity of two percent of all eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot that day. That is one in fifty people in this city willing to take five minutes out of their day to help decide the fate of Buffalo schools. I cannot help but think of what I was saying to people as they left the polls Tuesday “thank you for getting out and exercising that little bit of power we all have.”

You see, that really is the case. From high to low, poor or rich, black and white, and straight or gay, it is the one way any of us has any affect on the way things work in this country. It is our first right, and our most solemn duty. There are other rights, and I wish people would exercise them more. You actually do have a right, by law, to be heard by our “leaders” (not necessarily by your neighbors however.) When you write your elected officials, and demand a response, they are bound to give you one, even if it is just a crappy form letter. The right to vote, though, is the most basic one. It is our responsibility as the real leaders in this country, to ourselves and each other, to decide who is best to go about the business of government. Yet less than 60 percent of all eligible voters even bother to vote during the hoopla of a Presidential Election. Compared to the mid to high 80’s the French get, that is embarrassing for a country that bills itself, however inaccurately, as the first modern democracy.

There are a lot of reasons that turnout is lower than it should be, and it is not just the fault of the voters. With the exception of the general elections, most people are not aware when a vote is going down. I ran into quite a few prospective voters that did not know that the board of ed election was coming up. If we cannot get the the FCC to demand broadcasters give free time to individual candidates who make it onto the ballot, we should at least make them play free public service announcements, at peak viewing and listening hours, a month in advance to let the public know about a vote.

We also do our voting on a workday, which for some people is not a hassle, but for the poor in our country is often too much of a burden to bear. Employers are supposed to give their employees ample time to vote on election day, but how many employees work on an entirely different side of town from where they live and require the use of public transport? France, the country with generally the highest voter turnout, holds their elections on a Sunday, when almost everyone can get to it. Ideally the elections should be hold over two, or more, days, on and around the weekend, giving everyone the chance to vote.

Then there are those that do not even realize they are eligible to vote. Most of these are people from American territories, usually Puerto Rico, made to feel like foreigners, despite the fact that they are American citizens. In my time as a cook I worked with quite a few Puerto Rican men and women and most did not realize they had they were allowed to register to vote. Unfortunately, there are too many people happy about that in America, as evidence by one voter I encountered last Tuesday who voiced her displeasure at the Spanish language sign at the polling place.

All this said, the onus is on us. The backbone of our democracy is the people, and we are the people. Those of us who want to see real, positive change, rather than just bemoan the fact that no one gets out to vote, have to pick up the slack and encourage, even to the point of browbeating if we have to, our friends, neighbors, and relatives to get out there and do that little that is required of them if they really want to call themselves “free.” Otherwise, all we have every other November is pageantry, designed to make people believe we live in a democracy, when in fact we do not. There is a case for that, I suppose, but I am not willing to concede that, nor our rights, and you shouldn’t be either.

 

 

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