November 2, 2000: If You Don’t Vote, You Can’t Whine

The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government is to live under the government of worse men.”  Plato – 500 BC (or thereabouts)

“Any able-bodied person who doesn’t vote should be keel-hauled, dipped in boiling oil and forced to answer the mail generated by my column on Arab terrorists.”  Yarbrough – 2000 AD.

Power to the people!  Once again, we choose the individuals to whom we will entrust the future of our country and ourselves.  Once again, our federal government passes from one Administration to another without bloodshed or revolt.  It has been that way for over 200 years.  But guess what?  About half the registered voters in Georgia regularly skip one of the most important obligations we have as Americans – the right to vote. There is absolutely no excuse – none, zero, zilch, nada – for not voting.  For those who could vote, but don’t:  Shame on you!

There are a lot about our country that need improving.  There are a lot of things about the various candidates that need improving.  There are a lot of things about democracy that needs improving but it is for damn sure that nothing will change if half the eligible voters sit on their behinds and refuse to get involved.  Maybe these miscreants need to be shipped off to Rawanda or the Balkans or Afghanistan and see what happens when citizens cede power to the government.  There you have no choice on who runs the country or how they run it and if you complain, you are liable to find yourself in some flea-bag prison, if you are lucky.

I was raised in a family that looked at voting as a sacred obligation.  From the time they were eligible to vote until their last years, my parents cast their votes in person for every office from President of the United States to the East Point City Council.  I’m not sure they ever voted absentee, feeling somehow this would weaken their obligation to pull the lever or mark the ballot.  My first opportunity to vote was at the East Point City Auditorium when Dwight Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson.  I was expecting an epiphany or at least a bolt of lightning when I cast my vote.  Actually, it turned out to be a pretty routine experience but nonetheless, it was neat to think this burr-headed kid was actually voting to elect the President.

Several years later, I skipped a Presidential election because I was playing tennis with some business associates and that seemed more important at the time.  I happened to mention this to my Dad later and felt like a heel when I saw his look.  He didn’t say anything but he didn’t have to.  He was clearly disappointed in me.  I promised myself that I would never miss another election and I haven’t.

Were my parents alive today, they would be shocked and saddened by the current state of voter apathy.  I generally avoid using hard numbers in my columns because it interferes with my God-given ability to overstate, obfuscate and irritate but in a break with tradition, let me cite some statistics.  Of people 18 years and older who are eligible to vote in Georgia, less than half did in 1996.  Less than a third voted in 1998.  Barely 50 percent went to the polls in 1992.  Yet, in the past four years we have added almost nine percent more eligible voters in Georgia.  I ran these numbers through my trusty abacus and after carefully analyzing the results, determined we now have more people who find more reasons not to vote.

There is a silver lining to this cloud, however.  Like the jungle, where strong animals kill off the weak ones so that future generations come from the best gene pools, perhaps the smart people vote while the dumb ones stay at home, eating their Twinkies and watching reruns of Bay Watch.  That way, we don’t weaken democracy’s gene pool.

If you don’t want to vote, that is your prerogative.  A lot of Americans died to ensure you the right to be indifferent.   But nobody gave their life for uninvolved whiners.  If you don’t vote, don’t come running to me whining about inefficient and non-responsive government and that “all politicians are crooked” and that “my vote wouldn’t make a difference anyhow.”  No vote. No whining.

In fact, I wish my Dad was around to hear your excuses.  His look would make you want to crawl under a rock.