America’s greatest political party is not the Democrats. And it’s not the Republicans. It’s neither Independents nor Greens. It doesn’t have a formal name or political manifesto. It doesn’t even have an emailing list or a page on social media. Yet, in election after election, far more of this group is represented than any individual party — often more than every other party combined.
I’m talking about American citizens who are eligible to vote but don’t
Historically, about 60% of eligible voters turn out for presidential elections and about 40% turn out for midterms. (The U.S. Census Bureau cites 61.4% (137.5 million) Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election. In 2008, 63.6% voted. Voting in the 2018 midterms election actually hit a 50-year high with a roughly 47% turnout, the highest since 1966.)
According to a Sept. 2018 NPR broadcast, “You have to go back to the turn of the twentieth century to find a midterm election when a solid majority of people voted (of course, back then, the right to vote was far more limited, so the eligible voting pool was smaller, more male, and more white).”
When it comes to the mechanics of elections, the “I Don’t Care” party truly is the greatest party. It may seem counterintuitive, but this group turns out to be an actual political force. They vote by not voting. Sort of like not taking out the trash. Technically, you’re not making a decision, but wait a week and the very pungent result of your decision not to decide will make itself known all on its own. Non-voters must be mindful that there are people out there eager to make decisions for us that we will not make for ourselves. And by the time we’re worked up enough to finally be moved to action, it’s often too late or irreparable damage has been done. These people know that every potential voter on the opposing side who stays home on election day is a net win.
People who don’t vote generally cite one of three reasons:
First, “It’s too hard to vote.”
There’s actually a case to be made here, particularly in light of all the voter ID chicanery going on these days. It’s a simple fact that there are elected politicians out there doing their level best to make voting more difficult for entire segments of their own constituencies. They can be seen bragging about it openly, brazenly. According a 2014 study done by the Government Accounting Office, voter ID disproportionately affects black and younger voters. A case can be made for voter ID but only if it is applied equitably. When a voter in Texas can show a concealed handgun license but not a student ID (upheld by the Supreme Court in 2014), there’s something else going on. And it stinks. Still, when anyone unfairly targeted by voter ID laws considers what their parents, grandparents, and generations further back had to endure to secure the right to vote, polling encumbrances are simply no excuse.
Next, “My opinion doesn’t matter.”
This is where our educational and social systems need to do a much better job of making every American feel as if there’s a direct connection between their actions and tangible results. This is absolutely achievable. After all, most of us have no problem believing our opinion matters when we respond to a post on Facebook, or take the time to write a review of a product we bought on Amazon, or make our feelings known to a manager of a large store or restaurant chain.
Somewhere along the line people became marginalized, feeling like little more than tiny slivers of a percentage point on a pie chart. We need experienced-based civics courses back in the classroom as-well-as civil discussions about the role of an engaged citizenry around the dinner table. Neatoday.org’s Amanda Litvinov notes, “Until the 1960s, it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades, and lost further ground to ‘core subjects’ under the NCLB-era standardized testing regime.”
Third, “I don’t have time.” Or “I’m not political.”
Well, I mean, really; just shame on you. Fortunately, the solution to this one could not be simpler: Be blissfully non-political for every second of every minute of every day between now and Monday, November 2, 2020. VOTE ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3. Return to a divinely non-political existence when the rooster crows on Wednesday, November 4, 2020.
What can the voting half of the public do about the “I Don’t Care” party? As we move rapidly into a new presidential election cycle with registration deadlines, primaries, and the election itself coming up fast. If every person who votes would take it upon him or herself to connect with just one person who claims to be too disenfranchised, or too cynical, or too busy to vote and shepherd/encourage that person to get involved in the voting process. Send them a friendly reminder or two. Maybe three. Break the rules of “polite conversation” and bring it up over lunch. Perhaps make voting day a date. Drive them down there.
Carry them on your back if you have to.
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Many of Charles Caratti’s stories, articles, and essays have been published nationally. In the fall his work will be included in the textbook “America Now” published by Bedford/St. Martin’s/Macmillan Learning. Contact him at charlescarr.com.