Today was election day in Burbank, California. I walked in to my Polling Station, and was – as usual – crushed in the sweaty masses of nobody who had bothered to come vote. According to the volunteers manning the station, only 15% of residents were registered voters, and less than half had so far turned up (with less than 2 hours before the polls closed). Assuming the final tally might be an ambitious 10% voter turnout, that means my lone vote in a city of just over 100,000 represents 1,000 statistical ballots. When you consider that my wife and two neighboring families do me the honor of trusting my research at each election, and generally vote as I recommend, this means that my voting behavior accounts for a representative voting bloc of 6,000. I should be thrilled at the power I wield, but instead find myself dismayed – once again – at how lethargic and uninvolved Americans are in the process of influencing the communities in which they live.
Elections in the United States of America are like an Annual KKK Minority Recruitment Drive: sparsely attended. Yet most voters do not stay away out of fear or strong disagreement with the values of the candidates. I would understand the current pitiful voter turnout statistics a little more if they were a reflection of citizens driven by a fervent compulsion not to vote. I don’t believe, however, that laziness can be defined as a “fervent compulsion”. A nation with ample time to build Pinterest boards, post photos of food on Twitter, spend hours watching reality TV, and lurk randomly about the Facebook universe has no excuse for not taking the 10-30 minutes it takes to vote (unless, admittedly, you live somewhere like Florida).
I honestly have no data-driven knowledge as to why the USA posts such shameful voter turnout figures: at the Federal, State, and Municipal level. I leave it to others to hypothesize on that matter. If I had my druthers, I would follow Australia’s example, and make voting an obligation of citizenry. It’s a small price to pay, to ensure that our elected officials and proposed programs are elevated or obliterated by a truly representative bloc of the citizens they affect.
In the meantime, I continue to vote…for two reasons. First, I see it as my right and obligation. If I want to participate in this program called citizenship, I must be engaged in the process that governs and guides it. Second, I don’t ever want to be one of those people who complains about “the System”, only to be reminded that I abdicated my right to complain, each time I opted to stay home and watch the latest episode of [insert one of many possible examples of mind-numbing TV drivel], instead of taking the short walk or bicycle ride to my local polling booth.
Everything I’ve voted for in the past six Burbank elections has come to be. That’s how powerful I am with my thousands and thousands of virtual votes. So why do I feel so utterly powerless, as our political system continues to demonstrate a lack of maturity, leadership, gravitas, and vision for which I never voted? When our elected officials represent only 10% of us, they are rarely going to feel empowered to demonstrate the type of leadership we need. No matter what measures, programs, resolutions, or politicians I select, when I enter the polling booth, if I remain in the minority, these issues and figures will do just as the majority of their constituents…in this case, little to nothing.