Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Do You Make a Difference?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Fresh from the exhilaration of the Pinewood Derby, (Nathan came in third overall! Woohoo!) my husband and I pulled up to the doors of the junior high, rushing in before the polls closed. It had been a busy day, but we still wanted to make sure we voted in our city’s primaries for the three city council positions that are open. We had been studying the eight candidates carefully so we could make an informed choice.

We got out of the car and I glanced around the parking lot. We were the only car there. "Do you think the polls are closed?" I asked my husband.

He shook his head. "I don’t think so. We still have half an hour."

We walked up the stairs and went to the voting table where three judges met us. They seemed happy to see us and we were the only ones there. After signing our names and getting a ballot, I went to the little booth and cast my votes. As we walked back, the judges were talking and said that they had just hit 10 %. Out of our entire city, only 10% had come out to vote for something that would affect our city for the next two years.

That stuns me.

In the presidential election of 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 64 % of voting age citizens voted. Why is that?

Again, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 142 million people who reported that they were registered to vote, 16 million (12 percent) did not vote in the 2004 presidential election. Of these registered nonvoters, 20 percent reported that they did not vote because they were too busy or had conflicting work or school schedules. Another 15 percent reported that they did not vote because they were ill, disabled, or had a family emergency; 11 percent did not vote because they were not interested or felt their vote would not make a difference; and 10 percent did not like the candidates or the issues. Some other specified reasons for not voting included out of town (9 percent), confusion or uncertainty about registration (7 percent), forgetting to vote (3 percent), and transportation problems (2 percent).

When I took out my U.S. citizenship, I was just in time to be able to vote in the last presidential election. I took it very seriously. I watched the Republican debates and the Democratic debates. I educated myself on the issues and what the candidates stood for. I became involved in our community and was a representative at our county level to vote in elections there as a delegate. The process is fascinating to me and I wanted to be a part of it.

It saddens me that so many people don’t feel a need to be a part of it or don’t feel that they can make a difference. The freedoms of this land were bought at a very high price and the fight for freedom continues today. We need government officials at every level, from local, to state, to federal that will be able to stand firm in what makes this country great. There are so many issues and we are heading into another presidential election with several candidates to choose from. I have been watching the debates, following the articles on the qualifications of each candidate and what they could bring as a leader of our country. Even though we’re still in these early stages it’s easy to see that this very well could be a close race.

I hope more than 64% of the population vote this time. And that the 20% who were too busy last time, will make time to do something that every citizen should consider a privilege, that could very possibly shape the direction the United States will take in the future.

As much as my heart is still and always will remain Canadian, my life is in the United States and I care deeply for it. My ancestors came here on the Mayflower, fought in every major war including the Revolutionary and Civil War, and if all I can do to honor their sacrifice is to remember them and vote for the freedoms they fought for, then that’s what I’ll do.

If nothing else, you get a cool sticker that says, "I voted!" along with the right to complain if things don’t go your way, (if you don't vote, how can you complain about the state of affairs and feel justified?) but every vote does make a difference. I believe that.


At 9/13/2007 4:20 PM, Blogger Erin said...

I guess a lot of people just take it for granted. I know I do sometimes. I usually vote, at least on the big ones anyway. I know, I know, you can slap my hand later.

At 9/13/2007 4:23 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Julie, I really don't mind if only 64 percent of eligible voters vote, so long as they're intelligent, informed voters, making their own studied choices. I've been an election judge and have been thoroughly disgusted to see car loads of people brought to the polls by a party or campaign worker with explicit instructions of who to vote for. I even heard one party worker inform a carload of people she hauled to the polls to just put an X beside the (icon) because that's the party all ___ people support. I've seen nearly or completely illiterate people who can't read ask to be allowed to have someone help them and the help consists of "mark this box, mark that box," without anything being read to the person requesting help. I've seen couples come to vote and one turns to the other and asks, "who did you say I should vote for?" The one time I challenged an illiterate voter who was severely mentally retarded, his mother threw a fit and I got yelled at by the county clerk who was a member of the same party as the irate mother. Have you ever read some of the ridiculous letters that appear in the "letters to the editor" column of the newspaper? Or in those internet open forums? It's just fine with me if some of them stay home on election day. The ideal would be for every American to study the issues and vote responsibly--but it doesn't happen, so it doesn't hurt to be a little bit grateful if the ill-informed, those who are "too busy" or not too bright, and the eeny-meeny-miny-moers stay home. Wouldn't it be something if Americans took this privilege as seriously as the Afghan women did in their last election?

At 9/13/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

I was one of the election judges in Julie's precinct. If she and her husband had not come in, we would not have made the 10% mark.

I've been an election judge for years. I am always surprised by who doesn't come in to vote. There are always people in my precinct who are vociferous supporters of one party or another, who complain long and loud about the incumbents, who have so many opinions about what should be done instead--and they NEVER COME OUT TO VOTE!

If you don't vote, you shouldn't be allowed to complain. And the excuse that you couldn't make it to the polls on that particular day is just ridiculous. That's what absentee voting is for.

If you're not registered to vote--go register now, so you'll be able to vote in November.

At 9/13/2007 6:14 PM, Anonymous marlene said...

Living in a state that is nearly a one party states, voting has sometimes seemed like a waste of time since I prefer the less popular party, but if nothing else, I think of my vote as a comment to the legislatures telling them that I care but do not like what they are doing. One year I felt particularly frustrated and found myself praying that the voters would use wisdom in their choices, but realizing that many voters had made their choices long before those final days, I considered that the matter was not just a one day or week concern but something I should have been thinking and even praying about for many months. I try not to let elections sneak up on me now.

Julie, thank you for reminding me.

Thanks for reminding me Julie.

At 9/13/2007 7:19 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

Like Jennie said, I don't want more people voting. There are enough people out there voting who know nothing.

I would like more people to study the issues and then vote. But, not more uninformed voters, which is what get out the vote campaigns tend to do.

At 9/13/2007 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evil HR Lady and Jennie, I respectfully disagree, because I think that sends exactly the wrong message. It sounds to me like you are saying, if you haven't informed yourself sufficiently, then your vote isn't as valuable as someone who has and you probably shouldn't have done it anyway. I think ideally everyone should study out the issues, and then vote, but if they haven't, they could rely on opinions of others, or go with their gut, but their vote is still just as valid.

And who gets to decide who is "informed" enough to vote? Where do we draw the line between apathy, trying to do your civic duty, and being an informed voter?

Perhaps if they did vote and felt like they did make a difference it would influence them later to be a more informed voter. I just have a hard time with saying I don't want more uninformed voters, when by voting they could become more informed.

Do you see what I mean?

Julie Bellon

At 9/13/2007 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a teacher in college that said that those who don't vote are social parasites. Ever since I turned 18, I have done my best to not be a social parasite!

At 9/14/2007 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of the problem, Julie might be that you live in Utah County, where Republicans dominate SO much that people figure that if they don't vote Rep. then their vote won't matter, because there's no way anyone eles could win. If they DO vote Rep. then it won't matter all that much because the Rep would win anyway.
As for being informed, far too many people just do a "stright ticket" vote, which I would LOVE to get rid of. If you want to vote stright ticket, fine. But at least take the time to go through the whole ballot and at least LOOK at the names of the people you are voting for!
Plus yesterday was a primary election, which many people feel isn't the "real" election.

At 9/14/2007 10:18 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I agree with Julie "Coulter" Bellon.

At what point does a voter ever really become an informed voter? By comparison to me, who got a degree in poli sci and follows campaigns avidly, a lot of people seem relatively uninformed. But to someone like my friend Bryan, who works in Washington for Orrin Hatch, I look like an uninformed schmuck.

Besides, who is really informed about single candidate? I'd guess that a very tiny percentage of voters actually studies the candidates for County Surveyor or City Auditor, but still vote for them.

As for voting straight ticket, I don't see the big deal. People vote on issues, and if they really love the things that one party stands for, then let them vote for it. (The Anonymous right before me said "But at least take the time to go through the whole ballot and at least LOOK at the names of the people you are voting for!" I think that's making a pretty big assumption about Straight Ticket voters. Are you assuming that they haven't paid attention to the race for the last year, and that they JUST NOW are finding out that there are other people running?)

This country has had a bad history of dictating who gets to vote and why. I think that if someone comes out to vote--even if they were driven to the polls by the a campaign supporter--and they vote for the person they're told to, then MAYBE next year they'll be a little more interested. And maybe their kids will see their parents go to the polls and desire to go themselves one day.

(Incidentally, yes, I think voters should be more informed. But even if they're as dumb as a Canadian (zing!) I'd still rather they vote and develop the habit and get interested in their country.)

Oh... and about the most recent Anonymous' comment about "you live in Utah County, where Republicans dominate SO much that people figure that if they don't vote Rep. then their vote won't matter, because there's no way anyone eles could win." To that I reply with BALONEY. We've got lots of Democrats in Utah. And Libertarians and Constitutions and Greens. And a lot of them get elected on a very regular basis.

At 9/14/2007 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your response is exactly what I'm talking about.

"Republicans dominate SO much that people figure that if they don't vote Rep. then their vote won't matter." There is a very active Democratic party, actually, as well as Independents, and maybe if more people stood up and didn't give up, the tide would change faster than it currently is.

"Yesterday was a primary election and people don't feel it's a "real" election." Well, the fact is, it was a real election and those results affect who is running for a majority of city council seats which will affect everything our city does. When all was said and done, the newspaper reported yesterday that it was actually eight percent of the city who cared enough to vote. That is appalling in my book.

I do agree with you that people should look at the names of who they're voting for, but I'm not against a straight party vote. If a party platform more closely aligns with a voter's beliefs then the voter should be able to vote for that.

I think it comes down to knowing that your vote matters whether it's a city's primary election or a presidential election, whether you are living in a majority of Republican or Democrats or Libertarians. Let your vote be counted. If you don't like the majority, help facilitate change. Don't just give up and say I don't matter, my vote doesn't matter. It does.

Julie Bellon

At 9/14/2007 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Romney!

At 9/14/2007 8:22 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

I am what people call a "one issue voter." I can, and have, voted for a certain individual based on one issue alone. I absolutely cannot vote for a candidate that does not represent my views, even if that candidate is a member of my political party.

I do try to stay abreast of the campaigns so I can cast an intelligent vote and I vote in every election. Of course, where I live, by the time we get to vote in the Primary, the candidates have already been selected and most of the others have dropped out. I think the Primaries should all be at the same time so we all have a voice.

I believe that voting is an honor and a responsibility and since I like to complain (just ask my kids), I have to vote to feel justified in my complaints :)

Thanks, Julie, for your post.

At 9/15/2007 12:41 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I've been thinking more about the "I'm a Democrat (or whatever) so my vote doesn't count" philosophy.

Let's just hypothesize that Julie's voting district is extremely Republican--only 11% of the district is Democrat. Well, in an election like yesterday, a good grass roots campaign that drew out all 11% of Democrats could have WON. It would have been easy.

At 9/17/2007 12:12 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Good point Rob! I believe everyone should vote. They should take responsibility for the country they live in. The voting system is flawed when the people do not utilize it. I'm an American. I live in America, and I don't have the right to moan over the laws if I'm not willing to take part in their creation and the leaders who choose them.


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