On Tuesday, all the seats in Congress, one-third of those in the Senate, and numerous other state and local government offices will be up for grabs. United States voters will have the opportunity to vote on who will occupy some of the most powerful positions in the most powerful country in the world.
Unfortunately, most voting-eligible Americans will not exercise their right to vote. In non-presidential voting years, most voters have not shown up at the polls. In the 2010 election, only 38 percent of voters bothered to cast a ballot. Low voter participation has been a troubling long-term trend here in the U.S.
That’s a shame, because the right to the ballot box is becoming an increasingly rare privilege around the world. According to a 2010 report by the Economist, only 26 nations out of 167, comprising 12 percent of the global population, are considered to be full democracies. That translates to more than 6 billion people who are either living under autocracies or are only partially free. Freedom has been in retreat during the last several years, with increasing curbs on freedom in Russia and portions of Latin America. We only have to witness the massive street protests in Hong Kong to see how precious democracy is to those who are on the verge of losing it.
American voters have become cynical — and for good reason. They have watched incomes remain stagnant, the divide between the rich and the middle class grow, jobs flee overseas and health-care and education costs soar — no matter which party has been in control. The congressional approval rating is a dismal 14 percent. Fully 82 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress, according to the latest Gallup poll. The president’s approval ratings are low as well.
But staying home and not voting isn’t the answer. The primary objective of most politicians is to get re-elected, and the only reason they offer more of the same is because they know that voters are apathetic and disengaged.
Some voters mistakenly believe that unless the majority of the House and Senate belong to the same party as the occupant of the White House, little can be accomplished. Since this is rarely the case, they don’t bother to cast their ballots altogether.
Such thinking is a fallacy. Political scientists have long shown that when the executive and legislative branches are divided, more, not less, legislation is enacted — the explanation being that each branch of government wants to show that it is not the one causing legislative stalemate or blocking the passage of laws for ideological reasons. No politician want his or her party to be labeled as obstructionist.
Furthermore, voters often lose sight of the crucial importance of local elections. In some cases, they are unimpressed with either candidate. In others, the race is seen as so lopsided that they feel their vote is wasted.
What they fail to realize is that even more important than whom they vote for is the very fact that they vote.
In an age of high-tech campaigning, elected officials know exactly which communities vote and which don’t. Invariably, their decisions are heavily influenced by how it will affect their re-election chances.
In other words, if you don’t vote, you don’t count.
The power of the ballot box is all the more poignant for observant Jews. The issues they support are increasingly coming under attack in a wide variety of areas. They have witnessed social and cultural changes that are against their core values, and watched from the sidelines while vociferous interest groups have torn down age-old family value systems. They have seen their property taxes rise, while seeing their own schools and institutions receive pennies in return.
Even support for Israel, long-considered unquestionable, is no longer certain. A Pew poll of liberal politicians found that they blamed Israel as much as they blamed Hamas for the conflict. Only 44 percent said they express more sympathy for Israel than the Palestinians.
It is crucial that we carefully choose the candidates we should support, then take the time and vote.
Unfortunately, in recent elections we have seen an increasing level of negative campaigning, in particular by those seeking to unseat incumbents or running against a community favorite.
In a community where Torah Jews are a clear majority, nasty, unfair attacks have no place and have never helped a candidate get elected.
It is high time that all those who seek our vote — and the consultants and campaign workers they hire — get that message.