Zachary Klein

zach…to vote?

Frankly, this is an odd column for me to write. I’ve never been much of a “better the less of two evils” person, choosing instead to spend most of my presidential voting life writing in names of people who I could identify with politically. (Never had much success and even had the occasional debacle during the 1968 and 2000 elections when two of my lifetime’s worst presidents were elected.) Despite those serious missteps, it still remains damn difficult to pull the lever for someone I know doesn’t represent many, if any, of my interests.

But an odd thing happened after this week’s Boston City Council elections. I read a report that only 14% of my city’s registered voters even bothered to turn out. I had anticipated a low number of voters. The election centered around our city council (a “weak council” city) with only a few contested district seats and one contested city-wide position. So, we aren’t talking about much excitement. But 14%? That got me thinking.

We pride ourselves on being a democracy (despite operating under a number of anti-democratic institutions like the Electoral College and Supreme Court). Yet, by and large, the citizens of this great, exceptionalistic country don’t give a shit about who has their hands on the reigns. Or, for many, a foot on their throat.

This week I watched Bill Maher excoriate people who don’t vote. He used the recent local elections and ballot questions to blame sushi-eating liberals for Republican victories (Kentucky gubernatorial, Virginia’s legislature, marijuana questions, etc). Problem is, Mr. Smug Righteousness is all wrong. It’s much larger than any single group.

Fact is, almost half of our registered voters don’t bother to vote in national elections. Only about 65% of the US voting-age population (and 71% of the voting-age citizenry) are even registered, according to the Census Bureau. If we want to dig a bit deeper, the following represents the stated reasons for lack of participation (and believe me, you don’t want to compare our voting behavior to other industrialized, not-so-special-democracies because we look pretty dismal).

Graphic_11_8_2015 11_07_16 AMOkay, let’s just ignore the sick and/or disabled, those who are out of town, who don’t know, have transportation issues, forgetfulness, and people who face inclement weather on election day. Even with these subtractions we’re left with a huge percentage of people who just don’t give a damn. Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world. Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978.

Also worth noticing—in the 2012 election, there was a 33 point gap between the turnout rate of the highest income bracket ($150,000 or more) and the lowest, ($10,000 or less)


It’s clear that the system is leaving many people out—especially the poor.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the question of citizen participation was often discussed by my activist friends—albeit in a different context than these days. We talked about turning our attention to non-voters because we believed the underlying cause was the alienation and anomie people felt toward their government. I still believe that to be true but think it’s much, much worse now than back then. And with even more factors contributing to peoples’ estrangement.

First the obvious. However you want to cut it, whether it’s the one percent vs. the ninety-nine or the ten vs. the ninety, it’s crystal clear that our government is functionally controlled by the smaller number. And it doesn’t take a weatherman to know that those who control are not using the government to benefit the many, but rather the few. Of course, non-voters experience this. All they have to do is look at their lives.

Adding to the problem, there’s a vocal segment of the population who think they don’t want government at all. They’re best represented by the fools who wave placards demanding, “KEEP GOVERNMENT HANDS AWAY FROM MY SOCIAL SECURITY.” And there’s at least one political party who caters to the notion that almost any government is too much government. That party’s hypocrisy is never more evident than when a disaster strikes their home communities and, despite voting against government assistance to places that aren’t theirs, stick out hands demanding federal aid.

Pile onto this clusterfuck the fact that the other party is just as controlled by those of actual power as the first. It’s really no accident that the only candidate who rails against the one or ten percent identifies himself as an Independent.

Then there’s the recent proliferation of Voter ID laws, which many states have put in place to prevent so called fraud. Since 2008, 17 states have enacted laws requiring citizens to prove who they are at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. But getting an ID can be costly when you’re just getting by. A Government Accountability Office report found that it costs between $5 and $58.50 to get an ID in states that require it. These added barriers affect the voting participation of the poorelderlyyoung adults and minorities the most.

So why vote? Truthfully, I don’t have any great answers. In fact, the best I can do is muster the idea of “self-defense.” Not even defense against the worse of two evils, but rather to stop our ongoing slide toward becoming a country that needn’t even bother with elections.

“That’s absurd! We’ll always have elections. This is America!”

Maybe so. Perhaps we’ll always have elections if for no other reason than to pretend we’re a democracy. Perhaps. But remember my town, Boston, is called the “Cradle of Liberty.” Tell me what you think about elections when only 14% of your town bothers to vote.

Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. ~ Keep Hope Alive

14 thoughts on “WHY BOTHER…

  1. We have similar low turnout problems here in Tennessee. The best that can be said for it is that our “overwhelming Republican majority” turns out to be about 20% of the voting public, with only 15% preferring our anemic, right-leaning, corporate Democratic party. The worst is that those 20% are passing laws that make it hard on the other 80%. I’ve been working with the Green Party here in TN for the last 15 years, not because I think we have any chance of winning ($$$$!), but as an exercise in political theater and just plain stubbornness.

    In my view, one of the big drawbacks of the Sanders campaign is that people seem to view him as a hero who will solve everything by getting elected, rather than as an example. Electing one guy is not going to change the system. There need to be hundreds, if not thousands, of Bernies, including plenty of folks far to his left, if this country is going to change direction/cram on the brakes before going over the cliff.

    • Martin–First, thanks for taking the time to visit and comment. Much appreciated. I pretty much agree with your comment and admire your “stubbornness.” Frankly, I feel pretty boxed in with the political realities we face. Given my grand-kids, the Repubs scare the hell out of me. I honestly believe each and every one of them have the ability to take us over that cliff. Yet, it’s almost impossible to imagine voting for Clinton. The very definition of ‘between a rock and hard place.’

  2. Republicans aren’t elected by people who don’t vote. They’re elected by Democratic candidates that don’t represent the people.
    The sooner no one votes, the faster the charade of democracy will be over. Then again, I’m sure once the turnout becomes low enough to possibly expose this scam, voting will be made mandatory with steep penalties.
    So don’t vote–you only encourage them!
    But seriously, there is no hope for any significant change for the better as long as we have the system we do. Today, of all days, I’m more sure of this than ever.

    • Jed–It’s difficult to disagree–but. We both have too many people that we love to unleash anarchy. You may be exactly right that the Machine needs to crumble if we are to have any hope. But I’m still unable to swallow that because of what I fear may occur. “Course, R.D. Lainge may have been spot on when he said, “We have nothing to fear. The dread has already occurred.

  3. Hi Zach,

    Obama said in a speech that if we voted “we could change everything.” I say to campus protestors, “If you want change, vote!”

    We are caught in one delusion after another. You know the RINO label that means Republican In Name Only? Well how about CINO, meaning Conservation In Name Only. Republicans are not conservatives. I am a conservative. I care about the foundations of our democracy, our earth and about the right and the accommodations to vote. CINOs are not conservatives, they are subversives, reactionaries and finally saboteurs. The prefer to pillage and profit from so-called creative destruction. Hey, war is useful to them. For one thing, it thins out the population (the herd). This is not a problem for them since there are always workers at the gates wanting jobs. If workers start to vote (think unions) the Republicans rally to a scorched earth approach by lying, gerrymandering, and threatening the loss of jobs on a national scale. Fear, demonization and war are their tribal attributes.

    Why vote? The CINOs wreak havoc to convince you that your vote is worthless and will not change anything. If you do try to vote, they will call out law enforcement to discourage you and make you believe that it’s not worth the trouble.

    All our wisdom traditions and sacred texts tell us that we cannot build on a foundation of “sand.” Yet CINOs trumpet trickle down economics and “build” from the top down. If this isn’t the stupidity that brings civilizations down, it is certainly the vicious ignorance that sees our population as “cannon fodder” and grist for the mill.

    I vote and every time I do I come away saddened by my own people.


    • Jose–A really eloquent, heartfelt comment that makes the best case for voting that I’ve heard or read in a really long time. Thank you. But I disagree on one point. You may be a lot of things but “conservative” desn’t feel like one of them.

  4. Sorry Zach,

    I should have be clear that I meant conservative in its original sense and not in its political distortion which Republicans use to characterize themselves but who are CINOs.

    “Conservatism, in its original meaning, would require preserving the welfare state and widespread government intervention in the economy. Neither Milton Friedman nor most of the other people designated as conservatives today want that.

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/246682/evolution-term-conservative-thomas-sowell

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