Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

When Voters Don’t Vote

Non-voters are the best , if unintended, ally of extreme partisans. When people don’t vote, they don’t “send a message;” they just magnify the importance of people who do vote – and the often partisan views they espouse.

I Should Have VotedDiscouraged, alienated or disinterested voters undermine democratic processes as much as more as “true believers” on either end of the political spectrum. When the edges of political thought are what determine election, the men and women who get elected are disinclined to look for compromises in the middle. They would be politically foolish to do so.

In a recent TV testimonial, a woman confessed to being a halfway voter in the past, explaining she just got interested and excited by who was running for President. She admitted only halfheartedly paying attention to congressional races, while totally ignoring everything down ticket – statewide elected officials, legislators, county commissioners, city councilmen, ballot measures and school levies, not to mention the nearly obscure people who stand for elected posts to run water, sewer and irrigation districts and school boards.

The woman said she relayed the folly of her non-voting habit when Congress couldn’t get out of its own partisan way on approving a budget, forcing the federal government to shut down. Only then did it dawn on her that many of the things that actually work in government are decided by people closer to home, sometimes even her neighbors.

We are fond of recalling that Thomas Jefferson believed democracy rests perilously on the shoulders of an enlightened citizenry. What might have been a more pointed admonition down through the ages is the importance of an engaged citizenry.

HuhAmericans don’t need IQ tests to vote (interestingly, IQ tests were invented to judge how dumb people were, not how smart). We need Americans who can get away from their TVs, smartphones and other diversions long enough to see what’s on the ballot, do some basic homework and vote.

In many ways, it has never been easier to unmask political hypocrisy or fibbing. Most politicians leave trails that betray how they think, what they value and where they go for advice. There is little excuse for should-be voters to throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know anything about these people.” Find out.

One of the greatest achievements welded into the U.S. Constitution is the ability to adjust, usually at a frustratingly slow pace. The greatest check and balance built into our system of government is the ability to fire politicians and hire new ones to take us in a new direction.

Americans have used this power adroitly over time, removing partisans who fear-mongered or were corrupt or were just dead wrong. This is a great legacy for voting. There isn’t an equivalent great legacy for not voting.

With the 2014 general election just hours away, it is not to late to see who and what is on your ballot, contemplate the issues that matter to you and then cast your vote. Oregonians, for example, have sharply different choices for U.S. senator and governor and ballot measures dealing with need-based college scholarships, legalized marijuana and labeling of genetically modified food. We even have a measure that purports to make it easier for people to vote in primaries.

Down ballot are many more important choices for men and women who will make decisions that show up in your water bill or classrooms in your neighborhood schools.

Not voting at all or just voting on the top of the ballot gives more power to the people who do vote. These days, that is more often than not to be the people with hard-and-fast views and an interest in having their view prevail. Perfectly legitimate, but not always very flexible. You can see the results everyday by watching C-SPAN.

Voting isn’t about begin right or wrong. It is all about being involved. Greater involvement by voters is the best deterrent to greater influence by the few.


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