It shouldn’t be so hard to “get out the vote” in the U.S., but it is. Blame it on ignorance, laziness, inconvenience or indecisiveness — but getting some people to vote is as hard as getting them to voluntarily pull their own teeth.
When you look around the world, and see what is at stake for millions and millions of people, you know we take our democracy for granted. But even worse, those who understand the way we implement democracy use the very fact that many people don’t vote to their advantage. In fact, the savviest strategists count on many of us to stay home on Election Day to win their elections.
My parents instilled the value of voting in me far before I knew voting had any value. When I went to college and ran for student senate and became president of my fraternity, I just expected everybody voted. In fact, in my fraternity, everyone had to vote. So I won by a majority or members, not by a majority of voters.
Not many people running for office care about the will of the majority because the “will of the majority” rarely manifests because so few of us vote in every election or care about every ballot question. Interested parties conduct polls that reveal an idea of what “the people” want, but those polls refocus mainly on likely voters so the will of “the people” is rarely a consideration. What most favor is insignificant when compared to what wins.
Everywhere we turn people are angry with their government, but the fact is anger doesn’t drive people to vote. Motivated candidates and activists with money drive people to vote. It isn’t hard to tell precisely who we want filling out the ballot when we want to win, so what motivates most of us isn’t the will of the people — it’s the will of the voters we identify.
I’m not a single-issue voter but most people think I am. However, my votes are predictable, as are most of yours if the right guy or gal has wooed you their way. Then it all just becomes a number’s game. Those who vote in every election constitute a portion of the electorate — and since most of those votes are predictable — the focus of every campaign is to find people who agree with the way you want them to vote, and to get them to take a moment out of their day to do it.
This is all obvious, and we don’t even need to scratch the surface of voter suppression. Yet I haven’t mentioned a party, a person or a position to this point. This formula works no matter how wonky we are on any issue, how in love we are with any candidate, how badly we want to change any policy or the extent to which we defend our own morals.
That should strike us as odd, but we are so complacent about this reality we don’t even believe things could be any different. On the other side of the world, nations are voting to join other nations, and reports suggest voters aren’t even voting of their own will.
Yet we drive people to the polls over whether or not evolution is real and should be taught in schools, if marijuana should be legal and whether a woman should be forced to look and listen to a physician’s commentary about the state of her fetus before she makes the decision to be mother for the first time or the fifth – oh, and while they’re at it, for the President.
People have been arguing over voting since the founding of our country. We’ve debated whether one needed to own land, have white skin, and be a man to vote. Yet we hush the ugly truth — a majority of voters isn’t a majority of at all.
There are those among us, myself included, that benefit from this stupid system because it’s so easy to manipulate. But there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think about how deceptive our democracy is. After all, not many of us want to gamble on what our nation would be like if everyone who could cast a ballot actually did.