This is not meant as a criticism of the residents of Ferguson, Mo., who are having a hard enough time right now dealing with police riots run amok. But it’s important that we all remember to vote in each and every election.
Every election means every election: presidential, congressional, statewide — and local.
In Ferguson, Mo., the majority of the population switched from white to black over a decade. Yet the mayor, the city council, the police chief, and all but three members of the police force are white. It took the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, to sound the wake-up call about the need to vote.
According to research from the nonpartisan group Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, the U.S. falls way behind other countries in voter turnout.
“Robust voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” the group says. “As low turnout is usually attributed to political disengagement and the belief that voting for one candidate/party or another will do little to alter public policy, ‘established’ democracies tend to have higher turnout than other counties. Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections, but has never risen to levels of most other well-established democracies.”
Some countries, such as Australia, Belgium, and Chile, have compulsory voting, where voting hovers near 90 percent. “Other countries, like Austria, Sweden, and Italy, experienced turnout rates near 80%,” the group adds. Many countries experience turnout rates of about 70%, while in the U.S., “about 60% of the voting-eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections.”
That research certainly holds up when you look at turnout for the two most recent national elections. Voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election was nearly 58 percent of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2010, voter turnout for mid-term elections was less than 41 percent.
(Note: That’s “eligible to vote.” That also includes people who didn’t bother to register.)
In many states, municipal elections, for things like mayoral races, city councils, school boards, and library and park district trustees, are held in the spring in off years. People typically don’t pay as much attention, so they don’t vote. According to a study in Urban Affairs Review, “turnout in city elections may average half that of national elections, with turnout in some cities regularly falling below one-quarter of the voting-age population.”
So only one-quarter of the U.S. population shows up to vote in municipal elections. That’s how you have a situation like Ferguson, Mo. Again — this is not criticizing the population of Ferguson. But I bet many more of them will be voting — and running for office — in the next local election. Somehow, this whole situation in Ferguson has proved to be an eye-opener for a national populace that has been horrified at TV images of police in riot gear aiming assault rifles at citizens, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and arresting reporters who are just doing their jobs. National leaders are in Ferguson sponsoring voter registration drives. In other cities, groups are using the police violence in Ferguson as reasons to bolster their own registration efforts. A friend in an African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side said this had inspired him to start a voter registration drive at his church.
There are national mid-term elections coming up in less than three months. Much of the future direction of the country depends on it.
Even if you live in a district that’s considered dark red or dark blue — go vote. You may not think it makes a difference, but it very well could. If you’re not registered to vote, do so. It’s quick, easy, and painless. If you live in a state where state legislatures have passed onerous photo ID restrictions, and those restrictions have been upheld by courts, like in North Carolina, do everything you can to get that photo ID. Then go vote.
And don’t just watch TV ads from candidates. Do some research on your own. Look at their websites. Watch them when they debate. Read local stories about their positions on the issues.
Voting is a right. Voting is a privilege. But more than anything, voting is a responsibility. Don’t let those “likely” voters control who gets elected. Let’s all do our part.
If you’re mad about police tactics in Ferguson, Mo., get yourself to the ballot box. The people of Ferguson will thank you.
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