There is no clearer statement of the
direction of any organization than its budget. Given the opportunity
to impact the direction for all of California through this month’s
budget-related ballot initiatives, the state’s voters are likely to
say “no thanks” in mass quantities by not showing up at the polls.
There are perfectly logical reasons why the numbers are predicted to
be so low: the issues are complex and hard to understand; there
are no personalities in the form of candidates to inspire allegiance;
and there is a general belief that whatever we do won’t make a difference
because the state is in such a mess.
So what? The Declaration of Independence
says, “…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among
Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
The vote is our mechanism of consent. Not using it is a blow against
democratic government and a weakening of individual rights.
Worse still, a non-vote cedes power
to others by multiplying their impact. If I vote when only 40
percent of eligible voters choose to exercise their franchise, my vote
is 67 percent more powerful than if 60 percent of eligible voters go
to the polls.
Today, nearly 50 percent of eligible
voters do not exercise their right to voice their views through the
ballot (this is a national statistic based on all elections – not
just ballot measures). What is even more stunning is that the
percent of voters drops precipitously with age. Our youngest voters
(18-24) have ceded control of their nation to older voters by registering
only 30 percent of voting age population and voting at an abysmal 16
percent rate. Even among the oldest measured age group (55-64),
voters represent only 60 percent of the eligible population. Now
imagine a future with 95 percent of our citizens voting. Engagement
in our own governance will increase, as will knowledge of the issues
and the individuals who are running. The fervor for democracy
will grow, and we will again be a beacon of freedom to the entire world.
Voting in our state and nation is safe,
secret and simple – something which cannot be said for parts of the
world where a large percentage of eligible voters turn out. Voting
irregularities are rare and are quickly brought to light. If you
object to the time and trouble of actually going to the polls, you can
have the state deliver an absentee ballot to your doorstep and return
it to the voting agency at no charge.
Our typical voting results are diverse
– it is rare when a measure wins or loses by an overwhelming margin.
A six or seven percentage point difference is a big win, and the electorate
is often evenly divided on candidates and issues. That makes your
vote even more crucial.
Our political process is often messy
and tumultuous, filled with marketing slogans and often irrational posturing
by individuals. But that’s just a sign that the process is vibrant
and organic – uncontrolled by the state or powerful individuals.
You are in charge.
Unless, that is, you choose to stay
out of the voting process. Why would a free man or woman avoid
the opportunity to choose for themselves? It’s a mystery to
me. I’m voting. How about you?