What political issues really irritate you? Are you disgusted that people with money seem to win elections instead of people with principles? What issues do you think are being ignored by the government – fiscal responsibility, environmental threats, health issues, Social Security problems, or any number of other worthy causes? Do you wish the government would listen to what you have to say? If these issues “push your buttons,” it’s time to push some buttons of your own – in a voting booth. Complaining and whining will not affect how your tax dollars are spent, but your vote will. The next time you hear somebody lamenting about the sad state of the economy, the schools or the courts, ask them if they voted in the last election. Chances are they didn’t. In 1996, only 39.6 percent of eligible Nevada voters went to the polls. But trust me, the other 60.4 percent are still complaining that their wishes weren’t carried out.
A recent report by the League of Women Voters led off with a startling statement: “The foundations upon which American democracy is built are crumbling.” The report makes a convincing argument for this bold premise, chiefly based on the withdrawal of the average citizen from the political process. Voter participation in the 1996 election hit the lowest level since 1924, with less than 50 percent of eligible voters going to the polls. “What is a healthy democracy?” asks the report. “It is a place where people feel a sense of belonging and ownership, where they join together to address common concerns….It is a place where citizen participation helps to ensure that, at all levels, government is responsive to people’s needs and aspirations. Today, American democracy is not healthy.”
Most people who choose to drop out of the political process believe their vote doesn’t count for much anyway. For the record, one vote decided the following:
- 1995-The balanced budget amendment to the Constitution failed by one vote.
- 1993 – The largest tax increase in U.S. history passed by one vote.
- 1923 – Adolph Hitler was given leadership of the Nazi party by one vote.
- 1876-Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President of the United States by one vote.
- 1865-Andrew Johnson was saved from impeachment by one vote.
- 1845 – Texas was brought into the Union by one vote.
- 1649 – Charles I of England was executed by virtue of one vote.
One vote not only matters, it has the potential to change history.
And if you’re not certain that “just one vote” will affect the future, call up ten friends with similar political views and convince them to go to the polls. If they each call ten friends, you could start a whole movement. If you think that still won’t be enough, find a local candidate you like who’s involved in a close race. There’s still plenty of time before the election to volunteer to help in his or her campaign.
Alternatively, you could waste the time between now and November 7, stay home on election day, and spend the rest of the year complaining about the political system. The choice is yours. And that’s what democracy is all about-having a choice and using it.