Your vote...voices of wisdom

Gregory Floyd | 10/25/2018, 11:50 a.m.
Your vote…voices of wisdom British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once declared, “It has been said that democracy is the worst ...
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Your vote…voices of wisdom

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once declared, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.” Our democracy can be and has been disappointing to some, but it can’t be denied that a democracy’s ability to reach its full potential and wide array of ideals rests on the foundation of citizen involvement—voting. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis reminds us, “The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have… [and that] too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.”

Yet, voter turnout is way down. New York State, in fact, had the unwanted distinction of ranking No. 46 in voter turnout nationwide in 2014, with only 29.1 percent of New York City residents eligible to vote casting a ballot that year. Recent national trends indicate that 60 percent of eligible voters turn out for presidential elections and 40 percent for the midterms. Compare that with international turnout in nations such as Australia, Belgium and Chile, where voting is mandatory, and the turnout reaches 90 percent. Other countries, such as Austria, Sweden and Italy, boast 80 percent voter participation.

Low voter turnout is not a new phenomenon. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said many years ago, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they can do this is by not voting.” It could be argued that low turnout is even more troubling today because it flies in the face of numerous stories of people struggling throughout the world to gain the right to vote, as well as great dissatisfaction voiced by many Americans with our current government leaders. This predicament then begs the question: Why don’t more people vote in our country? Another civil rights icon, Andrew Young, was both baffled and disturbed by the problem. He reflected, “Having personally watched the Voting Rights Act being signed into law that August day, I can’t begin to imagine how we could have been so wrong in believing that more Americans would vote once they were truly free to do so.” Jesse Jackson also expressed his dismay with voter turnout, noting, “Many have fought for and even lost their lives to end segregation to win the right to vote. It disappoints me to now have to cajole people to register and vote.”

We know—only too well—that elections have consequences, some of which are very difficult to abide by after the fact. President Abraham Lincoln once sarcastically remarked, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their backs and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” In more serious language, Lincoln also commented on the power of the vote, saying, “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” And President Lyndon Johnson viewed voting as essential, noting, “The right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, as individuals, control over their own destinies.”