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Lions to the Ballot Box

NY Times, Apr. 23, 2014

By Charles M. Blow

The time for complaining is at an end. Action must be taken. Accountability must be demanded. Muscle must be flexed. Power must be exercised.

Ballots must be cast.

It’s important to vote in presidential election years, to make sure that the leader of the free world is truly representative of the country. But presidential politics is only part of the political apparatus — the part furthest from most individuals. Much of the rest of the political power has a much lower center of gravity, playing itself out on the state and local level. In fact, the more local an election or ballot measure, the more powerful the individual votes, because the universe of all voters shrinks.
Charles M. Blow

This is what more voters must be made to understand: It’s negligent at best, and derelict at worst, to elect a president but stay home when the legislatures with which a president must work are being elected. Apathy insures enmity, as the president and the legislative branch both rightly proclaim that they have been sent to Washington at the behest of diametrically opposed voting populaces — the president by a broader, more diverse (in terms of race, age, income and ideology) demographic group, and many members of Congress by a more narrowly drawn one.

In far too many cases, our representatives simply aren’t representative. Midterm elections draw a much older and whiter group of voters than do presidential-year elections. And that is only counting the people who bother to show up.

As Pew put it in the lead up to the 2010 midterms:

“Turnout in midterm elections typically is less than 40 percent of the voting age population (in 2006 it was 37 percent), and there is no reason to expect that it will be dramatically higher in 2010.”

In fact, nearly 42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2010.

Still, that means that most Americans who are eligible to vote don’t vote in midterm elections. And Democrats constituted 54 percent of the nonvoters. Thirty percent were Republican. That’s why “nonvoters generally express more liberal views than do likely voters,” according to Pew.

This is where the rubber meets the road. We know the kind of government we want. We know that we want to address economic inequality and tax-code reform. We know that we want to address gun violence. We know that we want to stop and reverse the raft of laws enacted in states across this country aimed at restricting women’s reproductive choices. We know that we want to expand the right to marry to all people in all states. We know that we want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We know that we want to halt and reverse the corrosive effects of big money on our politics.

It’s all doable, but only when voters realize that if there is a surreptitious us-versus-them fight between the cloistered money classes and the Everyman and Everywoman, then there are more of us than there are of them.

And yet as Pew found, the nonvoters are those who most need to have their voices heard. Forty-three percent of all nonvoters make under $30,000. Another 30 percent of nonvoters made $30,000 to $74,999. Those who made more than that represented only 13 percent of nonvoters.

Single people made up nearly 6 out of every 10 nonvoters.

People 18 to 29 were a third of nonvoters, while people 20 to 49 were another third.

As the report explained:

“Reflecting their low incomes, many more nonvoters (31 percent) than likely voters (14 percent) describe their personal financial situation as poor, and fully 51 percent of nonvoters say that they or someone in their household was out of work and looking for a job at some point in the past 12 months. Among voters, 36 percent had this personal experience with unemployment.”

And Hispanics made up 21 percent of nonvoters but only 6 percent of voters. Part of this, of course, is related to citizenship status, but part is lack of participation. In fact, a Pew report issued this month found that both Hispanic and Asian voter turnout in midterm elections has fallen, somewhat consistently, since 1986.

This is particularly disheartening since the proportion of Hispanics in the population is expected to nearly double in the next 50 years and the portion of Asians is projected to increase by more than half.

The growing majority must decide that it will no longer be silent, that it will no longer acquiesce, that it will no longer settle. We are the majority, not interested in social Darwinism and a social paternalism, but rather in a fair shake in a truly free society, where government works for the people and not for the plutocrats.

That is a simple and noble yearning, but it requires more than dreaming: It requires action.

Those struggling, unconquerable in their dignity and holding fast to the idea of equality, will one day roar, but only when they shake loose the lie that these lions are weak and sickly and divested of their power.

© 2014 The New York Times

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