Ending Voter Apathy MAG

By Erica Gilliland, Wolcottville, IN

The morning sun crept above the horizon as the workers hustled around, quietly preparing. In the distance, an explosion marked the first of many attempts to suppress this momentous day. “Maybe they won’t come,” someone whispered. Suddenly, a figure appeared in the doorway. The woman, dressed in black robes, smiled. “I am here to vote.” Her words reverberated with the hope of a long-­suffering nation. “Today, Iraq will be changed.”

In January 2005, millions gathered at polling stations across Iraq to vote in the first free election in 50 years. The sound of bombs and gunshots did nothing to deter the Iraqi men and women who assembled. “Whatever they would do, I would still vote,” said Hamid Azawi, 57. “Even if I was dead, I would still participate.” On this historic day, officials estimated that 60 percent of eligible voters turned out, despite car bombings and rocket attacks. Forty-five people died, yet amid the rubble, a celebration ensued.

Free elections have created the groundwork for many successful countries. Over time, democracies have been shaped into thriving republics where the people’s voice is the controlling force behind the workings of the government. But in the U.S., a disturbing trend is emerging. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance published a survey on voter turnout in 172 countries. Each country’s turnout rates for parliamentary and presidential elections between 1945 and 2008 were averaged and ranked. Italy boasts 92.5 percent voter turnout. Continuing down the list, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many others fall into line. But it is not until we reach number 139 that we find the United States. Averaging only 0.2 percent better than ­Mexico, the U.S. maintains a measly 48.3 percent turnout rate over the past 60 years.

The U.S. is one of the most powerful nations in the world, yet its people have become apathetic. Even in an age where candidates are spending unprecedented money advertising, Americans seem to concoct the most outrageous reasons for not voting. Many claim, “My vote just doesn’t matter,” “There isn’t a candidate I like,” or “I’m too busy.” In the 2000 presidential election, 537 votes in Florida determined the winner. The candidates are few and can be very ­similar or far-fetched, but compromising on one of them is better than silence. As Jane Goodall, the British UN Messenger of Peace and primatologist, said, “Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long as your values don’t change.”

One of the biggest problems we have is that the stereotype of today’s voters does not match the ­description of the typical American. Today’s voters are well-educated, wealthy, and white while the average American has a high school diploma and earns less than $75,000 a year. This disparity causes a problem: voters are electing representatives who have the constituent’s interests in mind, not the best interests of the ­nation as a whole.

Barbara Di Tullio, the director of Women Vote Pennsylvania, told USA Today, “If young people aren’t voting, politicians can ignore young people.” Politicians are concerned with being reelected, so they listen to the needs of those who turn out to vote. But if more citizens cast their vote, elected officials would have to cater to the needs of the masses, not the elite. Young people around the nation are complaining that no one is listening to them and all the attention is going to the baby boomers and the rich. Why? Because those people vote. Representation is a vital key to a republic, and voting by the masses is the only way to ensure fair representation.

But voting is not just about benefits and perks. More importantly, voting is a privilege. Around the world, thousands of people are living in countries that do not allow them to express their opinions. Iraqis were controlled for 50 years by a dictator, and when they were finally given the opportunity to vote, many jumped at the chance. Sixty percent of the ­voting-age population of Iraq showed up to cast their ballot in 2005, almost the same percentage as recent elections in the U.S. The only difference was that the Iraqis’ lives were at risk.

The privilege of voting was not given freely. Americans fought and died to ­ensure that future generations would have this right. Never did they imagine a time when people would be indifferent. When we choose to disregard our freedoms, we dishonor those who fought for them.

In a democracy, the citizens hold the power, either directly or through elected representatives; the majority rules but there are always individual and minority rights; the government reflects the ­“nation’s unique political, social, and cultural life”; and citizens are politically active. Without voting, none of these ­crucial building blocks can be accomplished. And if the building blocks of a nation crumble, the whole nation will soon follow.

Since that historic election in 2005, Iraq has shown slow but evident improvements. Iraq’s form of currency, the dinar, has become stable, and the people have been able to speak out more. We groan when we have to take time to go the polls. The Iraqis voted among gunshots and rockets. We choose not to care. America is suffocating in apathy and must make a change. If we want fair representation, if we care about our privileges, if we want our republic to survive, voting-age citizens must exercise their right to vote. It is not a choice, it is our duty.

Works Cited

Baker, Jean H. (2007). United States Government. In Microsoft ® Encarta ® Online Encyclopedia 2007. Retrieved April 21, 2008 from http://encarta.msn.com/text_1741500781_1/United_States_Government.html

Eisendrath, Craig, & Orvell, Miles. (2005). Making democracy work: in this age of apathy, archaic voting laws, and widespread disenfranchisement, can our Republic ever function as envisioned 225 years ago by the Founding Fathers? USA Today. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from Business Network: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2724_134/ai_n15727512/pg_6

Jacoby, Jeff. (2006, June 14). Signs of success in Iraq. The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 21, 2008 from Boston.com: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/06/14/signs_of_success_in_iraq/

Shadid, Anthony. (2005, January 31). Iraqis defy threats as millions vote. The Washington Post, pp. AO1. Retrieved April 10, 2008 from Washingtonpost.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48454-2005Jan30.html

Turnout in the world- country by country performance. (2005). Retrieved April 17, 2008 from International IDEA: http://www.idea.int/vt/survey/voter_turnout_pop2.cfm

U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). Voting and registration in the election of November 2004.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved April 16, 2008 from U.S. Census Bureau: www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p20-556.pdf

What is democracy. (2005). Retrieved April 17, 2008 from USFNFO: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/

White, Geoffry D. (2004). Political Apathy Disorder: Proposal for a new DSM Diagnostic Category. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 47-57. Retrieved April 10, 2008, from Sage Journals Online: http://jhp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/44/1/47

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This article has 5 comments.

on Apr. 4 2012 at 11:41 pm
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on Oct. 6 2009 at 9:56 am
AquariusSunandMoon SILVER, Sublette, Illinois
8 articles 17 photos 69 comments
This is REALLY good! I myself know a few people who follow the "Eh it won't matter if I vote or not" crowd.

I will be eighteen next year and am looking forward to voting. :)

otakugirl900 said...
on Oct. 8 2008 at 3:29 pm
great article!! I love how you are blunt and to the point. keep up the good work!

Mrs. Heinlen said...
on Sep. 16 2008 at 4:33 pm
Wonderful, thoughtful article Erica! I am very proud of you. Keep up the good work!

rugbys said...
on Sep. 16 2008 at 12:25 pm
Very well written and so to the point. Not only have we become apathetic about our right to vote, but also in our moral standard. Good job and keep up the good work.

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