Thursday, April 3, 2008

Voter Apathy

I despise voter apathy.

In a country that brags about its democratic tendencies, and pushes that same agenda on to other countries (sometimes with limited success, see: Iraq), it’s rather disheartening to see a WI Supreme Court candidate beat by another with a 411,272 to 391,549 spread (note: figures taken 4/2/08, article linked 4/3/08).

Do the math.

That is a total of 802,821 votes…for the entire state of Wisconsin. The estimated population for Wisconsin, as of 2006, is over 5.5 million people (according to the U.S. Census Bureau). An estimated 23.6% of that 5.5 million are under the age of 18, thus unable to vote. Of the 4.3 million adults, those 802,821 votes represent a measly 19% voter turnout.

For a country so proudly democratic, that 19% is rather pathetic.

And potentially damaging when you consider the 10-year term granted to a WI Supreme Court justice, and the power said justice has in interpreting the law through his or her decisions.

I used to live in Hungary, and was told by my Regional Coordinator and sponsoring organization not to get involved in anything political. Unfortunately, the national presidential elections took place that year, and my kollegium was a voting station. I had Hungarians lined up outside of my apartment door (I was located on the first floor – sometimes bad, sometimes awesome), for the entirety of the day. I couldn’t leave my apartment without slamming the door into some poor Hungarian voter.

The Hungarians took to voting like moths to flame, and I wondered why most Americans do not. “I Voted” sticker not enough incentive? No Chipotle in his or her neighborhood to offer a free burrito to anyone who votes? No interest in which politician decides this country’s future?

My theory is that, quite simply, Hungarians love to exercise their democratic rights by taking part in the election process, while Americans largely remain apathetic. We must remember that Communism is still quite recent (circa 1990), and fresh in the minds of anyone over the age of 25. Many older adults remember, painfully, living in a country where they were not allowed to vote for their leaders, yet were subject to those same leaders’ whims. They now eagerly anticipate voting – the right to choose – and do so in droves.

Thus it is my opinion that we are simply spoiled. The old adage that you do not know what you have until it is gone. We do not realize the privilege we have in being allowed to vote for our leaders (electoral college and all of it’s issues aside). Until that privilege (yes, it is our right, but it is also a privilege in the sense that not everyone in the world has it) is threatened or taken away, we will never fully understand just how good we have it. And that, I believe, is the real travesty.

No comments: