Why vote? Quite a few people seem to be asking that and have been for some time. A majority of Americans, I think, ask that question. Since only about 58% of registered voters bother to vote, that means the rest of them are wondering why they should bother. Incredibly, at the national level, it’s considered successful when 80% of 50% of the electorate turns out to vote. Most of the people I meet who don’t bother to engage their civic duties, consider their vote worthless, something that won’t make a difference. Even if they vote, I hear, the system is rigged, fixed to benefit certain people. And that feels right to me, it does. So much of American governmental history is dominated by inequality or monied corruption, how could that not be the case? I even hear that there’s a significant portion of potential voters who don’t register in order to avoid jury duty. Still, I vote.
In North Dakota, the state legislature passed a restrictive voter ID law that requires each voter have a street address. This disenfranchises the homeless, for sure, but it also effectively nullifies the votes of Native Americans who live on reservations in rural areas without street addresses. For all intents and purposes, a people who have faced genocide at the hands of the United States government, a people who have to cope with rampant ignorance at the highest levels of American leadership, who entertain ideas of race supremacy. Those incredibly dangerous ideas consider chattel slavery to have been a tiny part of the U.S. economy (it was a major component), insignificant to the Civil War (it wasn’t), and bears no affect on society today (it does). It thinks Native populations are trespassers in their own country, unworthy of even the basic honesty required to follow treaties. For those people, I vote.
Voter ID laws passed by the Georgia state legislature require state-issued licenses—excluding the most common forms used by the poor—in order to vote. Poor, rural citizens who don’t drive have no state-issued IDs recognized by the law. The nearest license issuing departments, such as the DMV, have moved offices up to fifty miles away from the populations. In order to vote, the working poor must take a day off, not get paid, spend money travel fifty miles, spend money to obtain an ID, and spend money to return. For them, I vote.
In my small state of Rhode Island—a state that led the way in progressive thinking—only about 48% of registered voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections. That means an effective minority in a two-party system made the decisions on ballot questions and state leadership. A majority of Rhode Islanders are apparently okay with a minority of the state deciding its fate. And so it goes with national elections, but it is far more important to vote in local elections where the impact is far more potent. And so, I vote.
Mostly I vote so that people aren’t hurt. To have a city council with a heart, to approve ballot questions and legislative action that will help or protect people in need. To have a voice, however small, in the course of my neighborhood, my city, my state, and my country. I vote informed and with a conscience.
In 2013, an LGBTQ activist, Davis Hammet, a gay man, visited Kansas and fell in love with the people. So he decided to stay. He then witnessed the state, led by Gov. Sam Brownback, flailing economically and sliding down a right-wing hole where LGBTQ lives were not valued as citizens. This man left LGBTQ activism efforts in 2016 and helped start voter registration and turnout movements. By 2017, one-third of the state legislature was voted out. By 2018, there were three LGBTQ representatives elected for state and federal offices. In 2019, Gov. Laura Kelly (formerly Senator) has pledged to restore LGBTQ protections that had been rescinded under the Brownback administration. Some parts of our deadly, capitalist society are beyond our immediate control. I admit that. But this example? That’s a straight line of effort and influence driven by voting. It’s a demonstration of change for the better. And a damned good reason to vote.
This is why I vote.