Political column: The power of a vote
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 23:10
Alexis de Tocqueville said, “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”
This applies directly to the vote. Voting is a critical obligation cast upon the citizens of the United States. It helps ensures the accountability of our officials and the legitimacy of our democratic republic. However, voter turnout in the United States is depressed compared to that of other industrialized democracies for chief executive elections. It is even lower during midterm elections, and still less during off-year and local elections.
Voter turnout in the United States for recent presidential election years is approximately 62 percent among the voting age population, which is low compared to other similar countries such as Germany, Australia and Canada. Turnout during midterm elections, held every two years, is even fewer in the United States, where it is about 36 percent.
Lastly, turnout is at its lowest ebb in local and state elections, especially during off-year elections. For example, in the special election for New Jersey’s Senate seat, only 9 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls. During the general election for the seat, that number tripled to an astounding 24 percent of registered voters, an all-time minimum for New Jersey.
Virginia is holding its gubernatorial election this year and turnout may be relatively small as well. This is based on the fact that only 30 and 40 percent of voters cast ballots in 2007 and 2009, respectively. That is just among registered voters, meaning even less of the eligible population voted. Even though these state candidates may be winning a majority of the vote, they are still elected from a plurality of the citizens of the state.
A danger of races with depleted turnout, such as primary and state elections, is mostly die-hard members of each party go out to vote. This has the potential to shut out many of the moderate candidates, potentially leading to intensifying gridlock.
One main problem occurs at the youth voting level. Many young individuals simply do not vote. It is truly a shame seeing as younger voters make up a relatively large portion of the electorate at 46 million people. This is enough to sway elections at any level—federal, state or local.
The right of suffrage for 18 to 21-year-olds generated from vehement opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft. Young people became riled up enough to help add a new amendment to the Constitution. There are real problems in Washington and localities that affect younger people—not in the same way as Vietnam—but maybe just as adversely. We, as a whole, are just not showing up.
With turnout consistently hovering around anemic levels are we really getting the government we deserve? If you want your voice to be heard, show up to the polls, especially the local ones. It is paradoxical that in elections where citizens have more influence with their votes and are more directly affected by the outcome of the election that many of them will not vote. If it is not too late, register, learn about your local elections this year and make sure you get what you deserve.