Why We Americans Don't Vote!
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
May 29, 2003
A local friend of mine named Thomas Kavoussi, immigrated from Iran when he was a child, was elected President of the student body of the University of Texas at Austin in the mid to late sixties and who went on to gain a PhD in economics from Harvard University told me that in his opinion, the founding fathers of America were truly inspired and geniuses. I agree.
Another friend of my wife Karen's told her that when she went to visit her family in another country, that they demanded her husband's approval before she could board the plane in that country to come back home. After the ordeal, the lady told my wife in all her broken English, that when she landed in America on the return flight, "I wanted to kiss the ground." So what is it about us native born Americans that causes us to take leave of absence from the vital process that guarantees us the liberties and freedom we have come to expect and yes, cherish? Take voting, for example.
In the Bexar County Presidential General Elections, where voting should be at its highest, the percentage voting in 1996 and 2000 never topped 50%! In the off-year elections of 1998 and 2002, voter turnout in Bexar County never topped 35%! Then the really interesting phenomenon is the municipal performance. Note the percentages of the registered voters turning out in the following municipal elections, denoted by the mayoral candidate running at that time:
1995: 15.39% (Bill Thornton)
1997: 16.65%(Howard Peak)
1999: 7.49%(Howard Peak)
2001: 13.57%(Ed Garza)
2003: 5.53%(Ed Garza)
The most often-heard reasons for not voting are as follows:
- embarrassed or were in fear of being embarrassed by being unacquainted with the process of actually casting a vote,
- intimidated by the election ballots, machinery or even the election personnel.
- "all politicians are crooks",
- nonvoting traditions within the families,
- "my vote really doesn't count",
- simply forgetting,
- being out of town on the final Election Day (not having taken advantage of substantial early voting period before Election Day)
- being too busy.
- others you may know of as reasons for not voting!
For roughly six million years humans have walked this planet. Almost all but the last two hundred years of those six million have seen man experiencing monarchy, dictatorship and a great deal of tyranny. The founding fathers and mothers devised an ingenious solution to the problem confronting many of the populace. They were in search of their next meal; their next million or somewhere in between and thus could not or would not take time to attain a serious level of expertise to govern with any degree of finesse. Hence we have a representative form of government where our elected officials can take the time to understand wise if imperfect ways of governing.
How representative can our government be though when the turnout of the registered voters, not the populace, is so dismal? You do not have to be a "know it all" to vote. Just the act of voting is educational. And for those looking for a little better insight into what is going on with government, try becoming involved in the process as an election clerk, judge or a volunteer in some campaign. Had I not had an exciting teacher like Frank Madla (currently our State Senator) at St. Philip's, I might have ignored the excitement and sense of fulfillment I have found in public life. But it was the involvement that followed that really sold me on the value of my personal involvement.
And so it is that we must remember the words of Alexis De Tocqueville, a distinguished French political writer and statesman who visited America in the early 1800's and wrote Democracy in America. I will attempt to paraphrase what he said, "Citizen participation was the animating spirit in our democracy and that if it should ever end that democracy as we know it would cease to exist." May we always remember these eternal words of wisdom and be in the truest sense, a citizen!