The 2018 midterm elections have been marked by controversy over a range of issues: immigration, the Supreme Court, Iran, Russia, gun control, international trade, and more.
Much hinges on the electoral outcome. Whether the Democrats will wrest control of Congress from the Republicans, or the Republicans will fight off the challenge from the left will have a major impact on the course America takes over the next two years at the very least.
On that much there is agreement on both sides of the partisan divide. Both sides are investing in this as if it were a life-and-death struggle, pouring millions of dollars into campaigns for the Senate and the House, governorships and state legislatures.
Given the high stakes, one wonders why the turnout is not much higher than it is. If in presidential elections voter turnout reaches 60 percent, in midterms it’s more like 40 percent. This year, polls indicate the turnout will be higher; but even of it hits 50 percent of the eligible voters, what of the other 50 percent?
Why don’t they vote? For the most part, the reasons are unflattering: laziness, cynicism, ignorance, lack of understanding of and appreciation for democracy.
For some there is perhaps a more subtle reason for not voting. They don’t recognize the fact that there really is a connection between pulling a lever or pressing a button for a candidate’s name and any result that they can see.
How can one single vote make a difference among thousands of votes? The question is often asked rhetorically, but in fact there is an answer.
One doesn’t have to look beyond the 2016 elections, when very small margins made the difference in who won certain districts and carried certain states. Candidates for office know this very well, and that is why they spare no effort to shake every hand, talk to every potential supporter. Many a campaign has been undone by complacency: the notion that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and the results won’t be affected if you and a few of your friends don’t show up at the polls.
It’s just not so.
Everyone wants to be recognized; everyone wants his voice to be heard. Often those desires, those self-interests are frustrated, for one reason or another. But a vote always counts. No more than anyone else’s, but no less either.
Of course, it’s not just a matter of self-expression. Great issues hang in the balance. Issues of historic significance for the whole country, and issues of vital importance for the Jewish community.
From funding for schools and yeshivos to better police protection and a host of other concerns for our children, for our elders, for all of us, much is at stake. We cannot afford to be apathetic or lazy.
Voting for the right candidate is extremely important. Going out to vote is even more important. For as it has often been said, if we don’t vote, we don’t count. If we want elected officials to take our communal needs and concerns seriously, it is imperative that we are perceived not only as citizens, but as voters.
For the Jewish voter there is also a matter of emunas chachamim, heeding the words of our sages.
Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, discussed the obligation to vote in a letter prompted by the 1984 voter registrations campaign of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. When asked about it, he replied in the affirmative:
“On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.
“A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov — recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent on each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.
“Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.”
Whatever one feels about the act of voting, whether it seems meaningful or not, whether it seems worth the time and trouble or not, we must listen to the words of our great spiritual leaders. All other considerations aside, this is the right and necessary hishtadlus: To go and vote!