Viola Liuzzo, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Emily Davison. These are just a few of the people who gave their lives so that they and/or others would have the right to vote. Still, the voting rates in the U.S. are dismal, especially for young people. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), just 57.45% of voting-age Americans went to the polls during the last presidential election in 2008. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that “voters 18 to 24 were the only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout” in that election. However, it was still just 49%.
The sheer saturation of the airwaves with advertising no doubt leaves some potential voters tired of the races before election day even arrives. According to NBC News, the Obama and Romney campaigns are spending a combined $26.86 every second, and total campaign spending by both sides is now over $2 billion. Those living in battleground states where the race is close are seeing just how much television advertising that can buy. However, the power lies not in the ads, but in the votes. And that’s where citizens have the ultimate say.
The saying “every vote counts” seems cliche, but probably not to people like Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who won his U.S. Senate seat by 312 votes in 2008, or Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who that same year became the first write-in candidate to win a Senate race in over 50 years (no easy task when your name is Murkowski). In the 2004 presidential race, President George W. Bush beat challenger Senator John Kerry in Ohio by just over 100,000 votes, winning re-election. In a recent interview, First Lady Michelle Obama pointed out that when you break the numbers down by precinct, the importance of each vote is particularly clear, noting that in the 2008 election, Barack Obama won by just 36 votes per precinct in Florida, 24 in Ohio, and a mere five in North Carolina.
There is more to the election than the presidency. Don’t forget the “down-ballot” races. A recent Gallup poll found that Congress’s approval rating had hit 10%, matching a 38-year-low in that they also had in February 2011. Yet in the November 2010 elections, less than 40% of voting age Americans turned out to vote.
Elections are about more than candidates. This year a myriad of issues are being decided by citizens across the country. These include same-sex marriage (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington), hunting and fishing (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oregon and Wyoming), the death penalty (California), and legalized marijuana (Washington). These ballot measures can be tricky. Often no means yes, and yes means no. Look at who is supporting and opposing the measures, and putting their money into each side. This information has to be made public. For example, Monsanto and DuPont are spending millions to defeat Proposition 37 in California, which would require labeling of products with GMOs.
This year in the U.S., 32 states and Washington, D.C. allow early in-person voting, at least in selected locations. There’s no reason to wait until the last minute, and no reason not to vote.
Artwork by Dotzero Design. Election info at www.rockthevote.com