So all those politicians we hate? The clowns shutting down the government? The partisan dopes fighting like schoolyard kids and not getting the work of the city, state and nation done?
Who gave them their jobs? The Americans who don’t vote. They are the biggest bloc of voters, the biggest political party, the ones who sit back and do the wrong thing: nothing.
There’s an important election today, both locally and nationally. The country’s capital is electing a mayor, Maryland is choosing a governor, and Virginia is deciding on a U.S. senator and a closely contested House race. Many local offices are up for grabs throughout our region. Nationally, control of the Senate is at stake and likely to change.
And still, the majority of voters are probably going to take a pass.
For shame. Think about it for a second. People bled, fought and died so each of us could cast a ballot. For minorities and women, that wasn’t so long ago.
In the 1960s, blacks who tried to register to vote in the Jim Crow South were attacked and harassed. A century ago, Alice Paul led a parade through Washington protesting women’s lack of voting rights. It was so rowdy that about 200 people were sent to hospitals. The women were pushed, tripped, shoved and grabbed. It took seven years of this kind of fighting to get the right to vote.
Then again, not caring about all the sacrifices by those who came before us is pretty common. A bunch of the celebrities who sang, danced and sparkled in a recent Rock The Vote ad to encourage voting in the midterm election didn’t vote in the last midterm election.
Maybe it’s because many of these candidates make it so hard to like them. They’re pontificators or polarizers or hypocrites. Sometimes they’re just dull and uninspiring.
In the most competitive D.C. mayoral general election in years, Democratic nominee Muriel E. Bowser and independents David A. Catania and Carol Schwartz don’t seem to have lots of folks in love with them.
But so what? Voters, you’re not marrying them. You can cast your vote for the candidate you consider the most qualified to run the city. You don’t have to love her or him.
The nonvoters who allow their government to be shaped by a minority of the electorate aren’t America’s happiest people.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study of America’s largest voting bloc, nonvoters are more likely to have a tough time paying bills. They are young and racially diverse, and only about half of them even have a credit card.
How to get these folks to vote?
Not more negative political ads, that’s for sure. Handshakes and meet-and-greets: a personal connection. That’s the tactic that worked best in a recent study of nonvoters. Even if there were no real results that came out of the interactions.
“Personal contacting works to persuade people to vote regularly,” said Melissa Michelson, a political scientist at Menlo College who co-authored a book on nonvoters.
I was reminded of the power of those connections by a recent D.C. transplant.
I was at a brunch Sunday sitting next to Kris Perry, who was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark case in California that went all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8 and begin the nationwide turning of the tide on same-sex marriage.
After a lifetime in California, after raising four boys with her wife, Sandy Stier, and after closing down that whole life to move to Washington, where she is executive director of the First Five Years Fund, Perry wasn’t all that excited to dive into a midterm election. But then she ducked into an art gallery that had some live music the other day. It happened to be a campaign event for the tiniest of political offices in the District: ANC commissioner.
The candidate lasered in on the couple, introduced herself and talked about all the local issues facing the neighborhood.
“I raced to get myself registered to vote,” Perry said. “I was so excited to see politics on such a local, organic level.”
That’s where it all begins. Your street, your block, your town. Because these are the folks, the ANC commissioners, the school board members, the county council members who might someday rise to be congresswomen, governors and senators.
A lot of voters only get excited when we are electing a president. But those humble local elections affect your life every single day.
This year, even if you are uninspired by the choices on the ballot, make it a point to head to the polls. I hope to see you there.