By Christopher Alexander Gellert
When primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire trudge through the snow next month to select their nominee, some will vote for the candidate they support. Others will vote for the candidate they believe can win.
For many Democrats, any qualms they might have about Hillary Clinton will be quashed in a rational calculation of “the devil you know” and “better than the other guy.”
It can be a depressing prospect, to support the lesser of two evils.
I was speaking to a friend recently about my support for Clinton, my admiration for her skills as a political operator and my belief that in choosing an effective candidate, canny compromise and negotiated half-steps are necessary to drive lasting change.
I don’t trust Hillary, but I trust in her to work for good.
This Machiavellian approach sickened my friend. He reminded me that voters determine the outcome of elections, and if voters don’t see a difference between Bush and Clinton round II, and if it rains, they’re not likely to trudge through puddles to the polls.
To quote my friend, “I wouldn’t flip an egg for Hillary.”
If voter turnout increased, our elections would look very different.
Voter turnout can determine the outcome of an election. My friend pointed out that in a recent Quinnipiac poll, Bernie Sanders beat Donald Trump (for the moment the Republican front-runner) by a larger margin than Hillary, and I was reminded that Obama owes his victory in large part to motivating minority communities to vote in force and inspiring young people to vote for the first time.
The president instilled a sense of civic duty in people who had previously felt disenfranchised and disgusted with the cynical calculations that are part of the U.S. political system.
When Obama first ran for president in 2008, 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the highest proportion in 40 years. Turnout dropped to 36 percent in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest since World War Two.
It hardly beggars the imagination to suppose if voter turnout increased, the results of our elections would be very different.
In an article, “Why Non-Voters Matter,” published last September, The Atlantic magazine broke down the numbers for the 2014 midterm elections:
- Of those earning more than $150,000 a year, 52 percent voted. The percentage dropped to 24 percent for those earning less than $10,000.
- Among 18-24 year olds earning less than $30,000 a year, turnout was 17 percent. Among those earning more than $150,000 and older than 65, the turnout rate was 65 percent.
- A much higher percentage of white voters — 46 percent — turned out to vote than of Asians and Latinos (27 percent).
Impediments to voting are no reason to abstain.
Those who do not participate in our elections — or who are barred from doing so — have as much of an influence on our choice of representatives and the laws they enact as voters. And in some places, it’s not getting any easier to vote.
In a recent 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit any changes in voting laws to the federal government for review.
Thirty-three states have passed voter identification laws, raising the ire of Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who characterized them as “poll taxes”. He noted that while 8% of whites lack proper documentation, the percentage of blacks without ID is three times as high.
What is more, contemporary gerrymandering is so sophisticated that it allows politicians to cherry-pick voters.
These impediments are no reason to abstain. Nor is cynicism over Hillary’s candidacy. For those fired up by Bernie Sanders, let me suggest this: vote for Sanders in the primary, and for Clinton later.
Our next president will determine the course the nation sets and ensure the health of our democracy, from challenging restrictive voter laws to nominating Supreme Court justices. Voters who don’t show up abdicate their voice to militants and zealots.
Christopher Alexander Gellert is a U.S. citizen who has worked in Chile and studied in France. His poetry has appeared in Belleville Park Pages, where you can read “Chopping Onions” and “Nights of Sleeping”, and in Forth. He also writes critical essays for Soonest Mended.