Today, I had an interesting conversation with a 30-something young man I’ll call Jim, who told me that he does not vote. This young man has volunteered for the armed forces, but does not think he has any need to participate in the democracy for which he was willing to sacrifice his life in the Middle East, and I still don’t really understand his lack of interest in voting. He has a young daughter who will have to survive in the world after we’re all gone, so why does he not feel the need to cast a ballot?
The fact that he (like me), lives in New Jersey, where the only likely outcome in November will be for Joe Biden, doesn’t excuse his lack of participation. He told me he’d been a Bernie supporter in the 2016 primary against Hillary, and has come to the conclusion that no matter who we cast our votes for, the system is rigged, sounding more like Trump than Bernie. It sounds to me as though Bernie may need to step up to a microphone to try to put this conspiracy theory to bed and disabuse his followers of their cynicism about voting.
This is not my first conversation with Jim about voting. Previously, we discussed the Democratic primary, and I encouraged him to vote with his heart for the candidate he most wanted to see as the candidate, but that, in the general, we all need to vote for the winner of the primary to get rid of Trump. Even then, before Biden became the presumptive nominee, he wasn’t willing to agree to do that. Now, it seems, his decision has become refusing to exercise his franchise at all, including at the local level, where things that matter to us happen, too.
I’m not sure what I need to say to Jim to help him to understand that his refusal to vote ensures that his voice is not heard at any of the levels of government that influence his life on a daily basis. Sure, one vote out of millions may not matter much at the national level, but he isn’t the only one with this attitude in his cohort group. His cousin, my daughter’s partner, hasn’t even registered to vote since returning to the state in 2018 (although I did print a registration form for him last week). He too was in the army in Afghanistan; he too joined after 9/11. I’ve tried to talk to him about politics but had to stop when he kept insisting that things wouldn’t have turned out any better if Hillary had beaten Trump in 2016. I don’t want to alienate him by arguing when I’m unlikely to succeed in changing his viewpoint.
I’m saddened by both these young men’s lack of interest in participating in the democracy that both of them fought for. I know that both of my adult children learned from me that voting is something we as citizens should view as our duty, and they both accompanied me to the voting booth when they were young. I’ve always felt that voting should be mandatory, not optional, although in order to do that it must be easier for everyone to do, whether by making the time available to vote longer than one weekday or by using universal mail ballots, and it’s interesting that now, during Covid-19, mail-in ballots are the one way we have of keeping everyone safe from the virus while allowing votes to be cast.
I know that my kids vote, especially for the president, although my son Chris doesn’t necessarily vote the same way I do. In 2016, he cast his presidential ballot for Jill Stein because he too thought Bernie had been treated unfairly by the Dems; as a resident of Pennsylvania, his third-party vote was essentially a vote for Trump, and we have had several heated discussions about it in the interim. I hope he sees his way clear to voting for Biden in November, since doing anything else is, per Bernie, “irresponsible.”
I have cast a ballot in almost every election since I voted for Jimmy Carter for president in 1976. Some of my votes have gone to the winner, while others have not, but I haven’t let that keep me from voting during subsequent elections. When the younger members of society abdicate their responsibility and leave voting to those in my age range, they end up with representatives who in fact do not necessarily represent them in government. Climate change is happening at an alarming rate, economic inequality is worsening, and things can only improve if everyone is fighting on the same side. Having a swath of the population choose to stand by and do nothing is unacceptable. So please – REGISTER AND VOTE. It’s your responsibility as both a citizen and a parent. Your kid deserves better.