Why Won’t We Vote?

Top lame excuses and how to make time for a better future now | Colette Phair

“In 2014, only 14.6 percent of eligible voters participated in congressional primaries — a record low, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. That means a tiny fraction of voters who are the most hardened partisans are essentially electing more than 90 percent of members of Congress.” — FiveThirtyEight

14% of Americans elect 90% of Congress. I knew voter turnout was low, but really? Hearing these numbers from a piece by FiveThirtyEight on the importance of voting in midterm elections reminds me of the oft-heard complaints that the U.S. more closely resembles an oligarchy than a democracy. It’s a bit like the 1% versus the 99%, in which a small fraction of the wealthiest Americans controls our society. Except in this case it would seem we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But why?



We’re “Too Busy”

Americans are well-known as the hardest working population in the developed world. As social democracies like Sweden and Norway propose cutting back their work days to 6 hours a piece, the big banks in America kindly reduce theirs to 17 hours for interns, but only after their interns start dying off. The U.S. is the only country where employees are not guaranteed a single day off from work, not even to give birth.

So please excuse us if we don’t have time to vote for candidates and measures that would improve our standard of living, and maybe even give us more time to live. Being “too busy” is the top excuse for not voting, according to Census data.

And yet, does this excuse really hold up? Even though we work hard, does it really take up all our time? “Too busy” is the reason you give the guy/girl you want to get rid of. If you really wanted a second date with democracy, wouldn’t you take the mere couple of hours every two years? Not having time to vote is like not having time to shower — it may be a chore, but we know it needs to happen eventually, and we may even be able to find comfort in the warm streams of civic participation we get out of it.

Extended metaphor aside, maybe those above-mentioned social democracies, with their collectivist nature, have some insight for us. Maybe getting help from our community could be the answer. We rely on friends and family for help in other arenas, why not voting? We don’t need to be rugged individuals when it comes to building our collective society.

We Have No Clue

So we may work hard, but when it comes time to vote, we more closely resemble our American counterpart, a Homer Simpson-esque cliché of beer-guzzling, TV-watching sloth. This is how a lot of the world sees us — uneducated, disengaged, or just burnt out.

Perhaps we’re so disillusioned by our lives as is, we can’t snap out of it to envision a different future. In 2014, 16% of non-voters were simply “not interested.”

Then again, voting takes work. That is, if you plan to vote all the way through your ballot, making informed decisions about local candidacies and ballot measure items affecting your state and district. And how can you make informed decisions without a way to inform yourself?

With the decline of journalism and a media obsession with the presidential race, Americans are in need of trustworthy sources of information on local issues and increasingly rely on getting the news from each other through social media. Maybe we’re starting to realize it’s too late for us to count on the media industrial complex if we want to know what’s really going on in the world — and maybe even do something about it.

We Care Too Much/Don’t Care

It’s not like there’s a shortage of problems that voting can help solve. In California this November there are propositions to fund K-12 education, repeal the death penalty, reform juvenile prison sentencing, and cut back on prescription costs. There are candidates fighting homelessness and working to make college affordable. And on the national stage, not only the president but the Congress we elect has implications for the whole world. Eight percent of us “disliked candidates/issues” instead of showing up in 2014, and ’16 has given us the two least popular presidential candidates in American history.

We complain about government. Ridicule candidates. Study what we’re required to know in middle school social studies class, and then forget. Yet when it comes time to perform one of the most powerful acts that can shape our society, we’re too distracted, disenfranchised, or just don’t care enough to show up for one day and vote.

But if you ask anyone in this country whether they’d like more money in their pockets and on their tax returns, if they think their kids should have good schools, or how to make our streets safer, they’re likely to have an opinion. We do care, we just need to find a way to close the disconnect between the government and us.

Just One Day

Maybe we should just make election day a holiday. Several American tech companies already have, and many nations hold their election days on holidays.

We could all stand to take a day to remember what matters, the control we exercise over our own fates and those of future generations. Maybe we need to start young. To teach kids about civic participation. We could meet with friends and make our voting decisions together instead of in isolation. Rather than reinventing the wheel with our own voter research and efforts, we could benefit from the work groups are doing to make voting easier.

We need tools to make it simpler — and faster — for citizens to connect with government. So voting won’t have to take more than a day of preparation. Registration that’s automatic, rather than being the voter’s responsibility. And instead of buying into the idea that our votes won’t count, we need to remember how much our neighbors and future generations are counting on us.

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