Last Tuesday was Election Day. The following day, The Times ran an article announcing the voter turnout to be 9.31 percent of registered voters.
We can make many excuses for this: There were no national issues or candidates on the ballot in Hall County. The weather was lousy. Some polling places had been changed. Add to these the fact that most Hall county residents, those that live in the city of Gainesville excluded, could only vote on the E-SPLOST education sales tax, and it’s easy to understand why so many of our fellow citizens were apathetic. If this had been a national election, especially a presidential election, things would have been different.
True. Instead of approximately 10 percent voter turnout, we would be looking at around 60 percent of registered voters going to the polls. In 2014, an estimated 57.5 percent of eligible voters made their voices heard. In 2008, a historic national election, we only had a turnout of just over 62 percent of registered voters. Today, 51 million Americans are not even registered to vote, most of these being minorities or low income citizens.
When you add these numbers up, we have approximately 40 percent of Americans making 100 percent of the decisions. This is not democracy. This isn’t even close.
The apathy and disenfranchisement of our fellow citizens is unfortunate, but, to a certain degree, understandable. We are told on a daily basis that this country is not ours, that is has been taken over by the bureaucracy; that it has evolved into an oligarchy.
These are not baseless accusations. It is true that most of our elected officials have been corrupted by the lobbyists and the distance from their constituency. It is also true that corporations and billionaires try, with much success, to buy elections and influence legislation.
But these unfortunate truths are, to a great extent, self-fulfilling prophecies. We allow money to corrupt our system. We allow lobbyists to bend our elected officials’ ears. We allow political action committee money to molest the truth and convince us to stay at home through the primaries, and then, if we vote at all in November, to halfheartedly nod to the lesser of two evils.
The system will remain such, and worsen, until we have had enough. One hundred percent of American citizens who are over 18 should be registered to vote. We, as a country, should accept nothing less. We should strive for 100 percent voter participation. We should educate our children that each of their voices is valuable and desirable. We should have adequate polling spaces and enough time for everyone to vote if they wish to do so, even if that necessitates election day being a national holiday.
This country is only a democracy if we demand it, and only an oligarchy if we allow it. It is our responsibility to ensure that we remain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and without our continuous vigilance, that will not happen.