Covid-19 has challenged and disrupted life as we know it. It has affected us all, but how it has affected us differs widely across the nation. It has magnified many of the inequities in our society, inequities that had hovered at the periphery of our vision, and are now in plain sight. The pandemic is a crisis in our public heath system and it is compounded by a crisis in the economy and the public outcry against systemic racism. Adding to the national anxiety level that all this has caused is the current political brawling and an incendiary mix, of misinformation, outright lies, conspiracy theories, and disarray in the US Postal Service. It is then not surprising that our path to the ballot box has become a minefield and a daily topic of conversation.
Has it really taken a virus, that has killed so many Americans, and all that has followed, to shake us awake to the importance of voting? To drive home the lesson that voting impacts our society, our country? This centennial year of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution reminds us that it was we, the people, who fought for universal suffrage because we wanted all of us to have a voice in who governs and how they govern. And yet, only 60 percent of eligible voters participated in the last four general elections, and this number dropped to 40 percent in most midterms, with local elections hovering around 15 percent. Every four years we hear the mantra “Your vote is your voice,” and if we believed and valued that, wouldn’t the majority of us vote in every election?
A Wake-Up Call
It seems we prefer to wait for a wake-up call, such as a pandemic or the eruption of demonstrations against police brutality. As we watch the crowds in the streets do we ask ourselves if we, and those demonstrating, know who hires, fires and oversees our police departments? Do we make the connection that not voting in local elections leaves in place those who may have no incentive to make the changes we want?
Studies attribute the low voter turnout in the USA to many factors, and earlier this year the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a report from its Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, titled “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century.” This report is important and timely. It is divided into six strategies and recommendations, with the second being “Empower Voters.” In essence, they argue that if we want everyone to vote we have to make it easy for them to do so, with mechanisms like automatic voter registration, voting centers and early voting, and Election Day becoming a national holiday.
Could increasing voter participation be that simple? Maybe and maybe not, because we have become a distrustful people, and civic engagement has withered. The report cited above has strategies and recommendations for those societal ills too and much more that is innovative and worth exploring. And here we come to the unavoidable fact that implementing any report, or turning the demonstrators’ demands into policies, will not happen unless we vote into office those who are open to change. That makes it imperative that we take the time to look at candidates, examine their records, and weigh what they will bring to the office they seek.
We have no choice but to wait for the pandemic to be controlled and, as we patiently continue our work toward resolving the inequities in health care, the economy, and racism, our focus must be to do all we can to “get out the vote” for November 2020. Using the resources available, we must each make a voting plan, and then, go one step further, to help others make and implement their plans. And we must be prepared for the final election results to take days, or maybe longer, and for there to be myriad legal challenges to everything, everywhere. This is the centennial of women winning the right to vote. Let us commemorate that victory by ensuring that every woman, their friends and family, can and do vote.
—Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair