The headline on Gawker read “Russell Brand May Have Started a Revolution Last Night”. My interest was piqued. But it wasn’t until the video kept popping up on my news feeds that I finally clicked on it. Intrigued by comments such as “Amen!”, and “I love his passion”, I sat down on my couch to watch the 10 minute interview between Mr. Brand and the BBC.
In case you haven’t yet seen it – essentially Russell Brand tells the BBC that he doesn’t vote, never has voted, and never will vote – because his vote “doesn’t count”, and neither does anyone else’s. Mr. Brand has decided that the only thing he can do is not be a part of the “system” and withhold his vote.
I held my tongue as I watched, not out of anger for Mr. Brand per se, but rather due to a feeling that I’ve had for the longest time which found its way back from the depth of my gut and came raging out. My hatred for democratic apathy hit an all-time high.
Want to change your world? All you have to do is vote.
The miracle of democracy is that the 2-5 minutes you spend in your voting booth decides everything about the way in which our framework of laws will be executed upon over the next four or six years for each office. For those 2-5 minutes, there are no commercials, no bumper stickers, no spin, no handshakes and no debates. Just you and a couple of boxes to fill in – the standardized tests from school finally paid off (for once).
But the problem is, a LOT of us don’t vote. And even MORE of us don’t vote when it matters most.
During the 2012 presidential election, 1,936,815 South Carolinians went to the polls to cast their ballot. 190,527 of those ballots were cast in Greenville County (where I live). Those numbers represent 66.5% of all Greenville County voters (SC total: 67.3%) – meaning about one third of all voters in my county stayed at home. That is a lot of voters. In Greenville County, that’s over 96,000 voices that went unheard. (Source: SC State Election Commission)
And you know what? That’s sad, because every law that comes from newly elected officials, effects even the 96,000 who didn’t vote. Everyone is given a voice, yet 33% of those in South Carolina chose to be silent.
Sometimes, okay most of the time, it is hard to feel any sort of appreciation for the democratic system that gave us [insert your least favorite Republican here] and [insert your least favorite Democrat here], and not to mention [insert that one law you keep complaining about here]. Sometimes we all feel a little bit like Mr. Brand – if I can’t see my one vote really make a difference, why punch the ballot? Unless every election came down to the wire like it was a football game, voters can get fatigued very easily, and stop caring – we don’t all live in Ohio, Florida, Nevada or Iowa.
And yes, it’s true that when our collective democratic leaders seem to ignore the cries from their home districts, and appear to lack all common sense, voting to put another person in office seems like the worst idea ever.
But you know how you can change all that? BY VOTING.
Let me take it down to a level to where this really “grinds my gears”.
Did you know that there is an election every year in the city you live in? We’re not talking just House, Senate or Presidential races, we’re not even talking primaries – we’re talking about City Council, County Council, School Board, State Superintendent, Governor, State House and State Senate races. Every year, a handful of these offices comes up for election. And if you think 33% of all voters not showing up is bad, let’s take a look at City Council elections.
Practically all municipal elections are held on odd-numbered years (2009, 2011, 2013, etc). With the absence of state and federal elections (which are held on even-numbered years), and namely their larger campaign budgets that are devoted to “get out the vote” efforts which highlight voting dates, City Council candidates are left with a huge battle to fit – get people voting.
Let’s look at a hypothetical city, but use real election numbers from a city close to my home (I promise the numbers are real).
In Howie, NV, the last municipal election was in 2011. That year, they had 1,937 votes cast, total. Turn out percentage was a little over 13%. In 2012, Howie, NV had 15,459 registered voters meaning that if the same election were held just one year later, the percentage would have dropped to 12.5%. About 12,000 citizens did not cast their vote in 2011.
While only 13% of Howie residents voted, every law passed by City Council effected all residents, regardless of whether or not they voted. The issues that truly matter most to Americans are the ones impacting their home, business and family immediately – locally. Having to put your dog on a leash, opening up your small business, commuting to your job, your police and fire protection, and the look and feel of your community; these are all items that impact every single person in your community, and they are all decided upon by your City Council.
It angers me to no end that such a small percentage of people pay attention to their local elections/issues. It makes logical sense that if you are effected by the law, and are given the opportunity to express your opinion of how the law is being administered, you would take advantage of that opportunity. If we cannot trust each other to be good stewards of our own democracy on even the smallest level – municipal elections – then how can we expect the overall electorate to be good stewards of democracy on the national level.
The most effective democracy is the one closest to the people. But it goes both ways – politicians who are closest to the people (geographically) tend to have better relationships with more people and are more likely to listen. But the citizen who is closest to its democracy makes more informed decisions and has their voice heard loudest.
The world is run by those who show up. And unfortunately, an irritating number of us aren’t showing up to run our own nation. Our ability to vote is, and should be, the most sacred component of living in America. Casting your ballot – whether it’s for a candidate or for a referendum – is your voice being heard. The only way our democracy works is if we participate. The only way to make our Constitution have any validity, is if we vote for people to uphold it. Our entire country rests on the idea that a person standing in a field by themselves has the same power to change his world as the person in a mansion next door – and that power is the right to vote.
We share some of the burden for the mess our Congress is in. We share some of the burden for the state of our schools in South Carolina. We share some of the burden for the condition of our roads. We share the burden because the people making decisions, whether we agree or not, were put there by those who voted. And if you don’t vote, you don’t change your world.
The irony of Russell Brand’s commentary on why he does not vote, is that every single one of his concerns could be addressed, if he voted.