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To Vote or Not To Vote; There is No Question

by Alan Markow, published

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?

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