LETTER: If we sit out, we can’t complain

May. 17, 2014 @ 04:57 AM

To the Editor:

As the recount in the Democratic primary for the Lee County Board of Education nears, many of us are considering the pallid note struck by a dismally low voter turnout. Only fewer than two registered voters out of every 10 voted in the primary. While this is slightly up from 2010, the conclusion from these numbers seems inescapable. Republicans and Democrats had important races on their ballots, and the one thing they seemed to have in common this year is that the vast majority of them stayed home.

Many bad reasons exist for the low numbers. Despite efforts by the board of elections, the press, the parties, the candidates  and even by the flood of TV ads, many Lee County voters reported not being aware that an election was on. Anecdotal reports from many of our volunteers also showed that at least some voters were confused about the nature of the primary; “Oh, I’ll just vote for [that candidate] in November,” I have heard.

Many do not participate in so-called off-year elections (in my view, there is no off year). Finally, many unaffiliated voters affirmed to election officials that they wanted to remain unaffiliated and were subsequently unhappy when particular races were not on their unaffiliated ballots. Unaffiliated voters, of course, can choose what party ballot they wish to vote, and voting on a ballot for either party doesn’t change their party affiliation.

“You get what you vote for” is a common adage heard in various political circles. The corollary is also true — that we get what we do not vote for. So much political energy and money is spent every cycle to influence elections, and we often decry the important role that money plays in deciding our leaders. We cannot complain if we sit out, because when the truly important factor in elections — voter turnout — is muted, then all that is left with determining power is money and influence over a tiny electorate.

I served in Iraq during two important elections. The pride and courage required to walk the streets of Baghdad with a purple finger was a testament to the nobility of the democratic process. I hope that Lee County residents look toward the November midterms with a renewed sense of civic responsibility, learn about every race and vote their entire ballots. Only through participation does our participatory government really work.

Jay Calendine