Voting is your responsibility, not optional entertainment

Published 3:10 pm Thursday, May 24, 2018


The Advocate-Messenger

We usually hand out thumbs ups and downs on Tuesdays, but we’re awarding a special Thursday “thumbs down” this week — for all the eligible voters who didn’t vote in Tuesday’s primary election.

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Boyle County’s turnout was less than 22 percent, meaning about one in five people who could vote, did.

That’s actually a relatively strong turnout for the primaries compared to some previous years — turnout was 22.4 percent in 2016; just 12.3 percent in 2015; 21.6 percent in 2014; and an appalling 7.3 percent in 2012. That said, 22 percent is still terrible.

The blame for low voter turnout is often put on what races are on the ballot, or how candidates ran their campaigns. Did the candidates get voters excited? Were there intriguing state or federal races with big names or big controversies? These are the kinds of questions you should ask — if you are deciding whether to make a movie about an election. They are not the questions you should ask if you are talking about whether people should vote.

Non-voters, it’s time for some straight talk: If you didn’t know who the candidates were, that’s your fault, not anyone else’s. If you weren’t paying attention and let the election slip by, you’re not placing a high enough priority on your civic duties. If you didn’t vote because it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, you lack a basic grasp on how democracy works.

The United States didn’t become the modern pinnacle of democracy in the free world because its people only got involved when they were entertained or desperate. We succeeded because people used their right to vote and felt it was their duty to invest their time and energy in their own government.

These days, it seems people throw away their right to vote as easily as they change the channel when a commercial comes on.

You know how everyone complains that politicians are out-of-touch, get-nothing-done, get-rich-off-their-government-jobs worthless hacks? Guess why those people are in office. It’s because you didn’t vote for someone else.

Voting has always been a responsibility, but no one treats it like that anymore. Instead, people think of voting the same way they think about liking posts on Facebook: They only bother to do it if it’s cute or inspiring and they happen to stumble across it while they’re bored and have nothing better to do.

This problem is not a secret. Wiley campaigners have known for years that winning elections in the 21st century comes down to driving turnout among their supporters and depressing turnout for their opponents, not convincing undecideds to vote for them. The only reason that’s a viable strategy is because so many people don’t vote.

This is not how any of this should work. In an ideal democracy, pretty much everyone would vote, and they would do so because they know it’s vital to the health of their country. Politicians would have to present solid ideas that please a wide range of people, and they would have to follow through on promises. There would be no option to win elections by working up your most extreme supporters; politicians would have to seek broader support.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal democracy. But we could work toward that ideal over time. The first step is for you to take the responsibility of voting seriously.