By Jim Hunt
As someone who has appeared on the ballot 14 times and served over a quarter century in elected office, I am often surprised when someone says to me that they don’t vote in “local” elections or that they only vote when it is a presidential election. And even more astonishing is the person who says that they haven’t voted in years or the ones who don’t take the time to even register. The right to vote is the fundamental backbone of a democratic society. When you visit a barber shop or beauty shop, the subject of politics is often discussed with strong opinions, expressed in even louder voices. And yet, many of those same people do not take the time to vote.
People will sometimes say, “What difference is my vote going to make, they do what they want to anyway!” As a person who served in elected office, I can tell you that your vote has power. Few decisions are made without thinking about the impact on the public and when people speak up, it is the foolish politician that fails to listen. Another reason that your vote has power is that it is a private decision between you and the ballot box. When you vote, no one knows who you voted for or what issues you supported. Even the most introverted person, who would never speak up in a public meeting, can speak loudly with their vote. Over my years in politics, I have seen many confident politicians, making plans for their victory party on election night, only to be surprised to find that the voters did not agree.
When you don’t vote, you empower others to make the selection of our leaders for you. In some elections, barely 20% of the voters show up and therefore, 100% of the public is ruled by a minority of those who were eligible to vote. And most of the time, the ones who argue the loudest were at home drinking beer or on the golf course on Election Day. And don’t think that the special interests don’t notice. With low voter turnout, a group or individual with lots of money can influence the outcome of the election.
My mother and my brother set an example for me about voting. My brother was a quadriplegic for the last years of his life and my mother lived to be in her 90s and never missed voting in an election. They both liked to vote in person on Election Day and I would pick them up and head to the polls. I would sit next to my brother and help him hold the pencil, while he made his mark on the ballot. As my brother’s condition worsened and my mother’s age affected her mobility, they would request a mail-in ballot and vote from home. My mother would ask me about candidates she didn’t know and read up on issues that were on the ballot.
There are few things I am more passionate about than my right to vote. I consider it a privilege and one that many people gave their lives to uphold. No matter what party you support or what issues you favor, the important thing is to exercise your right to vote. It sends a powerful message to those who represent us and lets the powerful know that their power is derived from the blood and sweat of individuals who can hold them accountable at the ballot box. The system is not perfect but the right to vote is the first step in making it better. Vote as if your country depended on it, because it does!
Election Day is Tuesday. Saturday is the last day for early voting.