My dad is Patriotic. Wait, I should have written it like this: CAPITOL P-atriotic. He used to read excerpts from newsletters written by Dobson and Schlafly at the dinner table. He sent me to John Birch camp. He gets tears in his eyes when he talks about the founding fathers. No, I’m not saying you have to be a die-hard Republican to be patriotic. I’m just saying my dad is both.

I can’t tell you how many times we talked about how great America was because it was a democracy and the people got to make the choices that shaped the direction the government went. And I believed it. Pretty much all of it. Until something happened. I turned into a teenager. And because I associated my father with being Republican, and based on that alone, I couldn’t support them anymore. I started watching the debates on TV and I didn’t like them. I turned into a Democrat just to be rebellious.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, while married and living abroad, with my (then)husband fighting the wars and skirmishes that I had no control over (even as a Democrat!) I spent a year or so hating Clinton and wishing for a Republican president. The Germans didn’t want us there. We didn’t want to be there. As far as I could tell, we weren’t doing any good there and I didn’t understand what took so long for us to downsize our presence there. And then, we were downsized and it sucked even more than before because we had to drive twice as long (2 hours in no traffic) for just about any military type service. There was just no pleasin’ me. But, as I understand it, we still have a presence there and probably always will, just like we will in every country we put our people in. We are the friends that don’t know when to go home.

Somewhere during the 90s, I got a bad taste in my mouth about our government and how it worked. Or, didn’t work. I didn’t like the futility I felt in wanting anything to change. I didn’t see how anything could be changed. And I just kind of turned myself off. It didn’t seem to matter who was president or running the house.

In the late 90s, I had a very personal experience with our healthcare system when I tried to get help for my waning mental condition and found that in order to get well, I’d have to move out of California and continually debate my way to proving that I was incompetent in order to qualify for help. Which I eventually did. But it was dehumanizing and for months my depression was mostly about not feeling like a whole or worthwhile person after repeating just how incompetent I was day after day after day. Thankfully, I got the help I needed and am one of the lucky ones. However, my anger and frustration with our government and its Systems is pretty overwhelming. And then you have this war. And Bush being reelected. And why do I even get out of bed in the morning?

All of this is to tell you: I’m not a voter. The last time I voted was in 2004, and I hated it so bad that I immediately tried to purge it from my memory. It feels so WRONG and CONDESCENDING to find out at 1pm that your state has already been counted for one candidate or another when you haven’t even VOTED YET. Futility. But, I still went and cast my vote for the losing team.

By the time a party-approved candidate gets elected to any government position they have made so many promises, accepted so much money from special interests and scratched so many backs that it just seem so altruistic and naive to believe they are still working ‘for the people.’ How could they possibly? And if my only choices are two people that have been ‘party-approved’ and I don’t believe in them, where is my recourse? Why is it always the guy I don’t like or the guy I don’t like more?

I’ve been so ashamed to talk about this. Partly because of the way I was raised and partly because I do so appreciate living in a country where we have a certain amount of freedom. And I think the thing that my soul bridles against is that it feels to me that this whole voting thing we do is a charade, a game, a way for the powers that be to placate us (the little people) into thinking we are doing something, anything, when really we are just spinning our wheels. I also believe that if you are going to complain about something, you better be prepared to do something about it. Stop whining and change it. But in this case, I can’t figure out how to change anything, which has created some kind of immobility on my part. But, if the entire country was filled with people like me, nothing would ever get done and there would be no hope. So doing what I’ve been doing, not voting, can’t be the answer.

I went looking online to see if I was alone in this. I mean, I know that one of the main refrains we hear is that half of America’s people don’t vote and a close second is the youth of today don’t vote. Remember Sean Combs and the Vote or Die/Rock the Vote campaign? He got an additional 4 million voters in that demographic to come out and vote but everywhere you listened, they talked about how that campaign did no good and it was a waste. An additional 4 million votes were a waste? Then what good does my one vote do?

This guy thinks that voting is actually un-American. This guy is celebrating not voting 42 times. . I can see their point, but I don’t agree. Author Jane Haddam has some interesting views in her series. James Clingman wrote something wonderful in the Baltimore Times Online. A few years ago the Center for Voting and Democracy held an essay contest. Here is what the ‘youth’ had to say about why we don’t vote. Steven Hill, in 2002, writes that the youth not voting has nothing to do with them being apathetic, since the trend is for them to be more involved in the community than ever before. This article/class outline talks about how important each vote is going back as far as the election in 1824-25. Here is a frustrated Conservative. Proving that this is in no way a new problem, here is an article from 1976 which includes a nice breakdown of percentages for the time. Also, I didn’t realize that you were fined in other countries for not voting. Australia had a 97% voting turnout (in 1972) in part to avoid paying a $15 fine each. Youth Noise is trying to entice the younger voter. Apparently you can text your friends with voting messages. And they have edgy taglines:

“These are edgy attempts to raise awareness and bring young people into the site and get a better understanding of why it would be important to vote in the midterm elections,” said YouthNoise CEO Ginger Thomson of the ad campaign. By edgy, she means taglines suggesting young adults don’t vote “Because I like rich, old, white men telling me what to do,” “Because I like 90% of my paycheck going to taxes,” and “Because I’m so homophobic I can’t even touch myself.”

There is good information on the AARP’s Don’t Vote site by state. And if you live in California, Easy Voter has your info.

Do you vote? Why or why not?

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24 Comments

  1. As a permanent legal resident, but not a U.S. citizen, I realized recently that it has been ten years since I have voted in any democratic election, anywhere. This bothers me.

    My father was one of those who didn’t vote, as a statement, and I respect that in others insofar as it is a conscientious choice and not a default position (I would have argued–if I had the nerve to argue with my father–that he should at least go to the box and spoil his ballot, which is the traditional protest vote. You know, put some energy into the decision.)

    As for me, I really believe in the idea that “societies are not changed by majorities”. I think every vote does count, even when it seems not to count. I am raising three boys as American citizens. I feel a tremendous responsibility about this, having grown up outside America, looking in, usually in fear and loathing. I am invested deeply in this country, however I feel about it.

    For a number of reasons, I have remained on the fence as far as my citizenship (and voting rights go). As long as Cheney/Bush are in office, I keep our passports handy. Three sons. In a country that goes to war over ……..well, over what, exactly? But it troubles me not to be able to cast my vote, even if it is for the losing side. I want to be counted among those who didn’t elect George Bush. Not just among those who couldn’t be bothered.

    Hmm. I guess I need to blog about this myownself. As ever, I am grateful for you speaking your mind and getting me thinking.

  2. I vote. Always have, more because I want to feel like I have the right to complain and debate, and for whatever reason, I think voting gives me more entitlement to that. Whether my vote ultimately does any good is just too complex a subject for my feeble mind to absorb.

    This election, though, I’m more ambivalent than ever. Because I know that either outcome will still bring absolutely no guarantees about our future as a country and as a human race. When we vote, we really have no idea how our candidates’ wins will ultimately manifest themselves. For this reason, I can understand those not wanting to vote. Why vote for an outcome whose circumstances you can’t even predict? I’d rather watch Heroes.

    Still, I’ll vote. Reluctantly.

  3. I vote for the same reason that I marched in an anti-war protest four years ago, even though I am not, by nature, a protester and I hate large crowds: because it is my right, and I am afraid that if I do not exercise it, I run a greater risk of having it taken away from me.

    I was once skeptical about my vote counting, particularly because I’ve always lived in blue states and usually vote blue, even though I’m more of a Libertarian than a Democrat (according the that world’s smallest political quiz),so why would my vote make a difference? Until the election of 2000, when a few hundred votes could have changed the world (even moreso in retrospect), and I wished more than anything that I, and all the people I know whose votes would have changed things, lived in Florida. Now I vote UNLESS I am truly not familiar with the issue or the individual, or unless I truly don’t care either way, because I think just picking someone by party or by name is irresponsible. I still go to the ballot box, though, to vote for the things that I do know about.

  4. I’m with Pioneer Woman, I vote primarily so I can bitch, publicly or otherwise. And I agree with you about political candidates – by virtue of BEING a candidate, I pretty much conclude that that person isn’t worth electing.

    But! And this is a big but since I’m pretty sure you live here too – California is a big proposition state. There are always really important non-candidate, non-partisan issues to be hashed out with every election. Everything from affirmative action to abortion has been decided by proposition in California. Not to mention the fact that we have the second highest state tax rates in the nation and yet our state politicians continue to put bond measure after bond measure on the ballot.

    I’ve never missed an election. My goal is to vote in every election until the day I die. Women fought hard for my right to vote! I refuse to waste it.

  5. i voted in the pres election for the first time last time around. that will probably be the last.

    i guess at nearly 23, i can still be considered an ‘apathetic youth.’ but let’s face it, we have an electoral college. if individual votes really counted we wouldn’t need that. is that a stupid thing to say? because it really seems that simple to me. also, although i live in massachusetts rhode island is still my home and i’m registered to vote there. and guess what, we’re so small we might as well not exist as far as any other state is concerned. we barely count as a whole, so, quite frankly, why bother? it’s not like we’ll even ever be one of those states that “it comes down to.”

    yeah, i guess i am somewhat apathetic, selfish, jaded, cynical, i could go on. but you know what? i get up every morning and i go to work. i drive my car, i love my dogs. i pay my bills. sometimes i go out with friends. i make dinner, i do laundry. sometimes we order out. i went to college. i wear jeans and sneakers to work. i just have yet to come across anyone who’s going to convince me that what’s happening in the government right now is going to directly affect the way i live my life. it’s not. we aren’t there yet and it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. i was the person who pissed everyone else off when i refused to raise my hand in class to agree that 9/11 changed my life. because it didn’t. every day of my life after has been exactly the same as the day before.

    when i look back on “the sixties” or “the fifties” it appears to me at least on the surface that regular old american citizens getting pissed off about stuff and making a scene about it actually changed things. things that a regular old american citizen would have to live with or without on a regular day. that’s not what’s happening now as far as i’m concerned. we’re still at war, we’re still homophobic.

    right now, today, i worry about paying off the massive college debt i have. i worry about my sister turning into an adult. i worry about whether or not my job is going to poof disappear at any given second because i took one in a new, unstable software market. i worry about finding the perfect fabric to slipcover the throw pillows on the futon.

    in my small young mind i don’t nor do i want to worry about the entire globe.

    that’s me being honest.

    [and ps, those ‘edgy slogans’ were pretty funny. as part of a marketing team myself i can say that’s about as good an idea as they’re going to get, but also being in their target range i can say they’re not going to get much. people roll their eyes. or they vote democrat just because it isn’t republican, without looking at any issues, without thinking about anything. i don’t want those votes. people my age want to hear government making it feasable for middle class white kids to get money for college. they want no taxes because “taxes are dumb dude, that’s my money.” yeah.]

  6. “i just have yet to come across anyone who’s going to convince me that what’s happening in the government right now is going to directly affect the way i live my life. ”

    Please allow me to hop up on my soap box. As a newspaper reporter, I went to A LOT of public meetings – city council, water board, school board. A lot of times me and the other local reporter were the only audience members.

    These little councils and boards and elected bodies affect every single thing you touch every day and the quality of your life quite directly. That 25 or 30 percent of your paycheck that magically disappears before you see it? THEY decide. And they are just normal average people like you and me. A lot of councils have 5 members. Three people can decide how to spend millions of dollars with a voice vote that no one ever hears because no one pays attention.

    If your roads are smooth or rough or congested – they decide. If your water has a funny smell or contains toxic chemicals – they can do something about it. If your electricity costs $10 or $300 a month – they had something to do with that. If your kids are in classes with 35 other students, guess what – your elected officials allocated YOUR money that way.

    You absolutely need to vote. That is primary. You need to know who you are voting FOR, too, and why. SmartVoter.org is a good place to start. Look at who is donating to their campaigns and who is opposing them. Don’t pay attention to the commercials, or if you do, go to FactCheck.org to see if they are true, mostly true, or lies.

    YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS IN YOUR COMMUNITIES, not just by voting, but by getting a group of 10 friends together who are willing to attend some council meetings. Wear matching t-shirts. Get signs. Alert the news media. Think of a catchy name and slogan. Be prepared to talk.

    Example: a group of people in my old town liked riding their bikes. They formed a group of Concerned Cyclists. They printed t-shirts. They went to the council with a simple proposition: that 1 percent of transportation funds should go to “alternative transportation.” It took a few months of nagging, but it was clear that they were serious and they weren’t going away. They got that – it sounds so tiny, 1 percent. But in the community, it was huge. Now there are big wide, well-marked bike lanes all over that town and bike racks and boxes everywhere.

    Don’t pay attention to hot-button issues – abortion, death penalty, gay marriage. PAY ATTENTION TO THE BUDGET!! Where the money goes is what affects you directly. Those kinds of issues are used to distract you from what is important. Politicians on both sides count on that.

    I was at a school board meeting where over 100 people showed up to protest that a high school health text called marriage “a partnership between two people” instead of “a man and a woman.” After that controversy was over, all those people left. Three minutes later, the board was discussing their annual budget, with about 3 people in the audience. So stupid.

    We get the society we deserve. If we opt out of public participation, we deserve what we get. Take a look around. Do you like what you see?

  7. I’ve only been able to vote for the past five years, but I’m super anal about it. I even do the absentee thing. I do it for reasons pertaining to work and even though it may “not matter” I like being able to say, I voted for this person because this person has (some of) my values at heart. It’s all cliche and trite, but the truth.

  8. I vote, if only because it is a right and a privilege denied so many around the world. What if, at some point in the future, our right to vote was denied? So many people would be screaming holy hell you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself think. I, too, feel it is futile at times. I, too, am frustrated by the administration and I don’t feel my voice is being heard. But, the alternative isn’t necessarily better. I won’t take anyone to task for not voting…but I do think you’ve (a collective, not necessarily you personlly) given up the right to complain about what’s happening. Change can begin with one person…

  9. Gosh, where do I start? I voted for the very first time in the last Presidential election, hoping that since it was my first time voting that big that Bush would not/could not be re-elected.

    I too think as you and wonder really what does my one vote matter? Isn’t it all just a machine anyway? And run by who has the most toys?

    I have found as I’ve gotten a little older that I am more interested. In fact, I got an email from a work-related friend to vote no on Amendment 1 for SC. Evidently, the wording of this amendment is tricky and would not allow common-law or same-sex couples the same benefits as traditional married couples. http://www.scequality.org/

    So, I’m planning to trudge my big butt on down and get my vote on.

  10. I just read the comment before mine and HAD to write this.

    I was under the impression that this is a free country and we could complain about anything, anytime we want? I understand the reasoning behind if you don’t vote you can’t complain, however this is a free country and you never know where your inspiration will come from.

    Sorry, that just reminds me too much of that black and white thinking I was raised with in which I try and avoid most days.

  11. I vacillate on voting. (Nice alliteration, eh?) I don’t like to vote if I don’t know anything about the issues or the candidates; it seems irresponsible. And I don’t vote a specific party. I don’t really like our two-party system; I wish we had at least a viable third party. And I agree with everyone who said they don’t trust political candidates just because they are political candidates. And I also agree that it’s depressing to realize that the electoral college system means my vote doesn’t really make a difference. I didn’t think that’s what a democracy was supposed to be about, but I also realize our country is vast, and I suppose it has to be organized some way. It just seems like there ought to be a better way. And I think the fat cats running things — I include Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives here — are ruining our world and don’t care, as long as they make a buck and stay comfortable. That’s super depressing. But I see other countries with similar or worse problems, so I don’t know why the US always gets all the bad rap. I think that if people really hate this country, they should try to change it — really try — or move. I love this country, but I think we need to change some fundamental things about it and feel absolutely powerless to do it. I don’t even know where to begin. Voting doesn’t seem to help, contacting my congresspeople doesn’t seem to help. So what’s a poor girl to do? I dunno. I wish I did.

  12. I too am part of the “apathetic” voter generation. The only difference is I get lumped in even though that doesn’t fit me at all. I vote. There are lots of reasons why I vote. Because I can. Because people fought and died for my right to express myself. Because I should. Because I take an active interest in the world around me. I had a professor in one of my political science classes at college tell me that my generation is forgotten because we don’t vote, we get mad that we’re forgotten so we don’t vote, therefore are forgotten further. The vicious cycle continues. I don’t know that I buy in to that entirely, but I see that it rings true for the most part. Which generation is being benefitted the most right now? The Baby Boomers. Why? Because they are the largest demographic to turn out. These are gross over-generalizations and I realize that. I think the statstic given that 4 million more of my generation showed up and that was trivialized was a calculated move. If 4 million people turn out and you tell them a) that’s not enough, and b) so what?, what incentive do they have to turn out again? 4 million people is the population of some of our states, and we’re saying that doesn’t matter. If this election my generation turned out 10 million, I don’t think people would automatically start to listen, but I think we start to gain some footing. The odds of that actually happening are slim to none, but I can hope.

    There’s more I wanted to comment on but I’m at work and I can’t process my thoughts as I would like to. This is something I definitely want to come back to.

  13. I think it was Barack Obama who said, “If you don’t vote, you get the government you deserve.” I agree. but I must admit I do see some logic to your reasoning.

  14. I am 22 and so I am part of the young, apathetic generation. However, I vote every chance I have. Mostly I do it because I appreciate the voting right whether it matters or not. When I think back to when black men, women and even my grandparents (they were immigrants who migrated here from Hungary during WWII) weren’t allowed to vote and how frustrated they were at this fact, I am thankful that I can. My female ancestors worked hard for the female voting right and I don’t want to take that for granted.

    Also, I’ve been a part of student council for seven years in a row now starting first at my high school (I was student body president my senior year) and even well into college. Being involved helped me to learn more about today’s political issues and as a result, I’ve always wanted to take part at the polls armed with my opinion.

    My junior year of college I was hired as the Arizona Student’s Association State Delegate and therefore, I worked directly under the Arizona Board of Regents and our governor, Janet Napolitano. In this position, I saw both sides of politics- the citizen’s perspective and the politician’s perspective. It was during this year that I learned that the citizen’s opinions DO actually matter. Sometimes, it seems like nothing is ever happening, and that is due to a number of reasons. Whether anything is ever changed directly or indirectly, the opinions of the people are considered and yes, that sometimes isn’t good enough.

    So, through the years I have learned that it is beneficial to our country to cast one’s vote whether one sees the change or not. I do feel that how ever bitter one may be…learning is a virtue. I love that I learn so much about our government, politics and about myself when I prepare myself for voting day…and that is something that no one can take from me.

  15. I’ve never voted. Not once. I would watch the debates as a kid (I remember championing Regan in Elementary school and scoffing at the one single guy who didn’t come from an LDS family who waved donky flag) but by the time I’d gotten old enough to vote – I was frustrated at the same things you mention. It seems like my one single vote doesn’t make any difference.

    I have a streak of conspiracy theorist in me too, so I think no matter what I vote or no matter what anybody votes Big Brother will decide in the end.

    I think the Republicans are liars, I think the Democrats are liars. I liked the Libertarians for a while but some of their platforms freak me out too. I don’t know, I guess I’m a Constitutionalist and geez, if you think a Constitutionalist has a chance at winning anything – meh.

    My dad is Patriotic with a capital P also, but he’s no longer a Republican. I think he’d call himself a Libertarian or a Constitutionalist. He votes because he doesn’t want the blood of the war on his hands. He wants to be able to say, I did not support that guy. I guess that’s valid, even if it doesn’t make a real difference in the world.

    Blah blah blah. To sum up? I don’t vote because I’m dejected.

  16. I vote because I view it not just as a right but a responsibility. Even though I generally view both major parties as homes to, at best, pathological liars I still shudder to think of what my life and our society would be like if we didn’t have the privilege of choosing our government leaders, crappy as they may be. On the other hand, living in Germany while being registered in Kansas and having little interest in state (or, for that matter, national) politics means that I generally know next to nothing about the Kansan candidates or issues at stake. So in many ways I’m very lazy and hypocritical up on my voting soapbox:)

  17. I vote, so I can complain.

    If you don’t vote, please don’t complain.

    i wanted to respond to this as well.

    in this country, we have the right to vote, which means we also have the right not to vote. just because i don’t vote does NOT mean i wave my ability to freely voice my opinion. please. and i certainly would not want someone pushing my hand at the polls either when your choices are “the lesser of two evils” or something i was not educated about, or a part of, etc etc etc. there are a lot of well informed reasons not to vote just as there are to vote.

  18. Of course people who don’t vote can complain. We still have the First Amendment in this country, despite efforts to chip away at it (limiting free speech and free press, blurring the line between church and state). However, those who don’t vote and then complain are just sad, because the things they are complaining about are things they threw away their opportunity to change.

    Voting is the one thing that every American adult citizen can do to have some control over his or her future and how s/he is governed.

    You think your vote doesn’t count? Talk to someone from Florida in December, 2000. Or someone in Ohio in November, 2004. A small number of votes can make a huge difference, and lately that number is getting smaller and smaller.

    Suebob is absolutely right that someone can have a tremendous impact at the local level. Most people know the name of the President, but a tiny fraction can name their state or local representative outside a campaign season. But the local and state representatives have way more influence over our daily lives, and there’s no electoral college there.

    Think government doesn’t affect you? For the apathetic, just wait until you or one of your friends or loved ones gets pulled for DUI and has to spend an automatic three nights in jail for a first offense, as was recently proposed here in Virginia. Or you forget to bring a plastic bag when you walk your dog and get a $250 citation for a first offense for not picking up after him. Those types of laws are passed at the local and state level, and those elections are often decided by a turnout in the single digits. That means a small fraction of people are controlling who decides your fate in so many ways. Look around at your neighbors, coworkers, classmates. You really want some of them deciding for you? Betcha some of them vote.

    Think you’re too uninformed to vote? Read your local paper the week or two before the election. They all do voter guides to help people decide. It doesn’t take a whole lot more than that to have some idea of how you’d like to see things turn out.

    I am fiercely patriotic and always have been. The surge of magnetic American flags on cars after 9/11 made me see red. Patriotism is not a trend or fashion statement. But if that’s what gets people so show up and participate, maybe it should be.

    I vote because it is my right, because it is my responsibility, but also because it is a privilege. Voting is the easiest way to express YOUR voice in how YOU’D like to be governed. So many people around the world do not have this gift of ours. If enough people keep throwing it away, it will be taken from us.

  19. Wow, it took me a few days to come back to this, but Suebob’s comment made me shake the water out of my ears and go, “Of COURSE.” I feel a swell of inclination to go to one of those meetings coming on.

  20. “However, those who don’t vote and then complain are just sad, because the things they are complaining about are things they threw away their opportunity to change.”

    Yep.

  21. My argument for voting consistently is that your vote does count to a much greater degree in local elections. For example, especially given that you have four children, I would think you would be interested in your local school board election, or the town council, or mayor. Your post was well thought-out and researched, but it probably would take significantly less time than that to educate yourself on the local candidates and then pop over to the neighborhood elementary school or fire station to vote this afternoon.

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