…that is the question.
Shane has allowed me to deviate from my typical Gaming article this month to focus on a more important and immediate topic: the 2012 U.S. general election. It’s a big year with the whole House, a third of the Senate, and the Presidency up for grabs (not to mention all the state and local offices in many cities, counties, and states). Needless to say, this year is shaping up to be one of the biggest politically in recent memory. I don’t think I go too far in saying that whoever wins the election this year will have a major impact on the decade to come.
If you live in the United States and have been paying attention to media coverage, you know all this. But if you have been living under a rock and/or don’t care, consider this a wake up call. What I want to talk about is the importance of voting. Why? Because voting turnout across the country is horrendous. Only about 60% of people old enough to register to vote voted in the 2008 presidential election. Of the 130 million who voted, a little over 69 million chose Obama. This means roughly 30% of all eligible voters (and around 23% of the whole U.S. population) picked who became the next President. That’s not even CLOSE to a majority! It may not worry you, but it certainly worries me.
While I don’t necessarily believe that everyone 18 and older should vote in the U.S. (I am more in favor of the 21 age limit), the fact is it’s here and likely to stay. That said, if you are 18 or older, the greatest right and power you have as a U.S. citizen is to vote. There is no greater and direct impact you can have as a citizen on government than voting. You may ask “But what difference does my one vote make in an election?” Well, consider this. In the 2004 Washington State gubernatorial (governor) election, of the 2,746,593 votes cast, the decision came down to 129 votes! In the 2000 Presidential election, Bush lost the popular vote by over 540,000 votes, but because he got enough votes in the states he needed, he was able to win the Electoral College (which ultimately decides the winner, not the popular vote). A few votes can make all the difference in a close election… and this year’s election is sure to be closer than people think by my estimation.
To focus on the age issue for a moment, consider that the biggest majority of voters in most elections are elderly, those citizens 55 and older. Turnout for voters between 18 and 24 is tragically low. “What’s the problem with that?” you might ask. First off, the issues and concerns the elderly have are much different than those that younger adults have. The elderly are typically more self-centered and concerned with healthcare and social security than younger voters who are concerned about education, job availability, and debt. Basically, the old folks care about the present while younger people care about the future. This isn’t unexpected. It makes perfect sense how each group has these different concerns. But what is unfortunate is that the concerns of the younger generation are largely ignored while the concerns of the elderly are given ample attention more or less because the elderly turn out to vote. Politicians reward those who vote for them, and until the younger generation gets in gear and pays more attention to the government that impacts their lives, things are not likely to change any time soon.
I find that young people typically fall into two categories. There are those who care about politics/government and those who don’t. Those young adults that do care are typically people who vote. They realize that their voice matters and is underrepresented and that the only way politicians will pay attention to them is if they vote. Those who don’t care are usually not voters. They don’t realize that the political decisions made now affect THEIR future. Still, they may be likely to complain about government and expect it to address their concerns just like everyone else, but if they don’t vote, they have no reason to complain.
Especially to anyone young (between the ages of 18 and 24) reading this, I encourage you to vote. If you don’t vote, your voice won’t be heard and your concerns are likely to be ignored. I cannot stress to you how important and vital it is, now more than ever, that you vote. If you are discontent with government, voting is the solution. If you are stressed about education and the job market, voting will make those concerns known to politicians. But if you don’t vote, it’s equivalent to saying you don’t care and that you are fine with being ignored by government and fine with the decisions they make that affect YOUR future. One of the Founding Fathers’ greatest fears for the future of the democratic system in America was voter apathy. The moment people did not care about the governing of the country would be the time when the country would face its greatest crisis. The only way a democratic system works is if those who live in it participate and vote. Without participation, democracy is about as effective as any other form of government, whether it be communism or a dictatorship.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to vote Democrat or Republican because that’s not what this article is about. The question that lies before you is whether or not you (if you are an U.S. citizen over 18 years old) will exercise your greatest freedom… your greatest right… and vote this upcoming election. I would encourage you to also be informed when you vote rather than vote blindly or based on party preference. Do some research on the candidates. Do not rely on the media or the parties for reliable information, but do your own homework. Spend a little time getting engaged in the democratic process. It only happens so often. The least you can do is spend a little time and care about the decisions that ultimately affect you. The best kind of voter is the one who educates himself and makes an informed decision. As a final note, encourage friends and family to vote if they don’t already or haven’t considered it. They may not listen to a TV advertisement or pay attention to a billboard, but they most certainly will listen to you.