Maybe people who DON’T vote have a point…

icn_105c.jpgTonight is the eve of Super Tuesday 2008, when twenty-one states will conduct their Presidential primaries or caucuses, and 1081 electoral votes will be decided. What is the value of voting? Or not voting?

In a society that values the opinion of the voting majority, the essence of democracy, why do we discount and ignore those who choose not to vote?

OK, I oversimplified the intro just a bit. There’s choosing not to vote, and there’s not choosing to vote. The former is active, the latter passive. That’s an important distinction, I think, between adults who want to vote but can’t find a viable candidate they like; adults who usually vote only if it’s convenient or when an election issue has caught their attention; and those who don’t even think about it. This is, roughly, the spectrum from the marginalized and the disillusioned to the disenfranchised. On the other side of the coin, I wonder how many regular voters vote not out of genuine support for a candidate, but out of fear that someone worse will win?

In view of this, can we infer any opinions expressed by the act of not voting? Especially when the majority of eligible Americans do not vote? Maybe the majority’s non-vote makes a bigger political statement than the minority’s vote.

I’m a registered independent voter living in New Hampshire. Primaries are national news around here, because ours is “first in the nation.” Sometimes candidates leave the race after a bad showing in New Hampshire. For whatever reason, our opinions hold disproportional weight every four years.

I’m happy to say the reporters are finally gone, the candidates’ commercials have ended, people are no longer trudging through snow to knock on my door and ask I vote for their candidate, and the mailbox is no longer full of junk mail en route to the recycling bin. Yay. We learned today that sixty-one percent of registered voters cast ballots in our presidential primary, comprising 241,039 Republican ballots and 288,503 Democratic ballots. This was a record for both parties.

Digging a bit deeper, the current US Census statistics count 1,314,895 residents in NH in 2006, 22.6% of which were under 18 years of age. That leaves 1,017,728 NH residents eligible to vote. If 529,542 voted in the last election, and that was 61% of registered voters, we have about 868,102 registered voters in NH. So, in an election that set an all-time high record for voter involvement, 529,542 people voted and 488,186 did not. 52% voted and 48% didn’t; 15% never even registered.

I’m familiar with the sentiment, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” I vote and I disagree. Not only do the opinions non-voters matter, what they’re saying is, “You call this a choice?” I admit, I didn’t vote for candidate I liked this year, because there wasn’t one. I voted to try and hasten the departure of one or two candidates who struck me as especially unfit for the Office of the President. I can’t recall ever having a choice I was enthusiastic about, which puts me in the “fear voter” camp. Maybe non-voters are potential “fear voters” who don’t give in to fear. Whatever the reason, the two-party status quo has a vested interest in keeping the non-voting public away from the polls. It’s a delicate equilibrium, swinging left and right, blaming the other party for The Bad News and claiming credit for The Good News. If the other 50-65% of eligible, disenchanted voters got organized, they could elect any one they wished. I think Ross Perot tapped into that vein in 1992 and could well have been elected if he hadn’t dropped out. Those would have been some interesting years.

I sometimes feel afraid when I hear elected officials from either major political party speaking, because I sometimes hear extremism and dangerous ideas coming from both parties. Our current Republican administration is still broadening the power of the government to spy on Americans without permission or oversight, and that party has appointed enough like-minded Supreme Court justices to make that stick for a very long time. The Democrats controlling both houses of Congress have yet to reassert their equality under the system of checks and balances, opting instead to let the Executive branch continue to amass unconstitutional, unprecedented power. And if today’s papers can be believed (a big if) Hillary Clinton is proposing direct garnishing of worker’s wages to pay for mandatory insurance.

And so I wonder if it is perhaps a more enlightened person who cannot in good conscience endorse either party because neither offers a vision of long-term hope for our nation’s future.

What kind of candidate would it take to appeal to the majority of adults in our country?

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are intended to entertain and uplift, perchance to inspire. They may not be appropriate for young readers, the satirically challenged, or the closed-minded. Parental supervision is advised.

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