“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
— Thomas Jefferson, third president of U.S. (1743-1826)
As this issue of The Tennessee Magazine is delivered to your mailbox, the United States of America will be within days of an event that I believe is very special. It is an event that does something remarkable and unusual in today’s times. All across this vast land, people of all walks of life will engage in the same activity at virtually the same time. Rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural, man or woman — regardless of who you are, you can participate in this activity.
And participate we will. Millions of Americans will stop what they would normally be doing — maybe they’ll leave their workplace a little early or forgo that normal stop at the local coffee shop — and get in their cars and drive to a community center, church or school. They will happily stand in a long line, chat with their neighbors while they wait and then perform a quick, easy task that has extraordinary impact on our nation and the world.
It will be election day.
On Nov. 6, you will have the opportunity to make known your wishes for the future of our country. You will have the opportunity to decide what issues are the focus of our national attention. You will have the opportunity to decide who will represent your wishes at the city council, the county commission and the state legislature. You will choose your U.S. senator, representative and even who will be the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. You will have the opportunity to go vote.
But the question is: Will you do it? History suggests that it’s a 50/50 proposition. Since World War II, the percentage of voting-eligible people who actually cast a ballot in the presidential election has ranged between 50 percent and 62 percent. This number is even lower when you compare the number of voters to the total population (many are ineligible to vote due to felony convictions, etc.). The decisions of our three layers of government (local, state and federal) impact every person reading these words, yet only half will choose to participate in the process that ultimately determines the outcome.
Therefore, simply casting your vote makes your voice almost twice as important as that of a nonvoter. Yet a very common excuse from people who choose not to vote goes something like this: “I know I should vote, but I’m just one person. There are millions of people in America. It won’t make a difference.” That attitude is dead wrong, and let me give you an example of why.
A family member of mine lives in a community that was electing a new mayor. It is a wonderful city, but like many former small towns it now deals with the headaches associated with being a “bedroom community” for a larger city. The city was at the brink of making some decisions that would have 20- to 30-year impacts on its residents, especially where we notice it most: taxes.
One of the candidates for mayor was a neighbor of my family member, and everyone in the neighborhood was seemingly excited about the prospect of a neighbor holding such an important position in the city. All was going well, and on election night the results came in. It was a tie. That’s right, the two candidates received the same number of votes.
During a family gathering several days later, I found out something that shocked me. My family member, who was so supportive of the neighbor’s candidacy, had failed to go vote. He was only one man, and had his one vote been cast, the outcome would have been completely different. Similarly, I assisted a political campaign in that very same community where the candidate ended only 23 votes shy of victory. Your vote does count.
Another reason some do not vote is slightly less cynical. They simply may not know when or where to go. If that is the case for you, go to www.nreca.org/vote and follow the link to find out where your assigned polling place is as well as information about the candidates for office where you live, early-voting details and any other specifics of which you may need to be aware (photo ID requirements, etc.).
I hope you will avail yourself of your own opportunity to both get informed and vote. Voting is the cornerstone in the foundation of our system of self-governance, and it is more than just a right endowed by the Creator and protected by our Constitution. It is an act that bands us together as the American people.