Many issues are on the ballot this year, such as who will represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and who will be the next governor of the great state of Tennessee. These elections are important. It matters who makes decisions on our behalf.
The cold hard truth is many of us do not vote regularly. In the 2014 midterm elections, only 35.97 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Two years later, during a presidential election, 61.92 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, often because they wanted to focus only on the presidential candidates.
The turnout in the state primary and county general elections in August was abysmal. Only 25.48 percent of Washington County voters bothered to vote.
There are real-life consequences to not participating in our democracy. Ironically, many who complain most bitterly on Facebook and Twitter about American politics fail to vote at election time.
Millions of Americans have fought and died for our right to vote. Yet many of us choose not to be involved in electing who represents us in public office. We sacrifice our rights and freedoms by not voting.
Public policy is something that impacts all of us. For instance, virtually everybody in Washington County uses public roads. Others attend public schools. Many are employed by or are students at East Tennessee State University, a public institution.
Still others receive free and reduced lunches; partake in Medicare and Medicaid; receive tax benefits from marriage, home ownership and participation in the stock market; or receive some other kind of benefit from the government.
In many ways, the local and state governments have a greater day-to-day impact on the lives of Tennesseans than the federal government. By choosing to forego a chance to weigh in, we allow other people to decide for us. This is simply unacceptable.
Over the course of the last 30 years, destabilizing forces have reared their heads. These forces include massive technological advancement, highly integrated and interconnected economic systems (globalization), tremendous demographic change and upheaval and the rise of populist and authoritarian figures.
The United States is not the only country to experience these developments. Russia, China, the Middle East, the Philippines, and parts of Africa, Europe and South America have witnessed the demagogic rantings of political leaders who are contemptuous of the rule of law, mocking of institutions, and dismissive of political and social norms which, in many cases, had been in place for decades as the West moved beyond stale old norms.
These developments coincide with what appears to be greater voter apathy and disconnect. Tennessee ranked 50th in the 2014 elections; we ranked 49th in the 2016 elections.
As people claim disgust and irritation with politics, they are also deciding not to participate. The end result is that the very same people on both sides of the political aisle, whom these disenchanted people claim are so awful at the local, state and federal levels, remain in office. It is silly to think we can ignore what we dislike and expect America to eventually improve.
The American experiment is a precious one. It has been built over more than 200 years of blood, sweat and tears. We are a complex, diverse nation full of energy, conflicting opinions and contradictions. Consequently, there are often differences between our stated ideals and our practices.
These differences have allowed for greater, more expansive views of liberty and freedom as well as more reactionary and restrictive views of the role(s) of government.
But what cannot be denied is the fact that the Founding Fathers viewed reason and evidence as important. Today, we are confronted with a crisis of ignorance. Foreign enemies, domestic profiteers and political parties sow misinformation and distrust. As a result, Americans pull back from the public square, preferring to ignore the looming crisis confronting America.
The problems facing us today will not be fixed with this election, nor will they be corrected with the next election. Voting and doing our civil duty to participate in this year’s elections are a much-needed first step to fixing what’s wrong with our Republic and democracy. Please make your voice heard and vote on Nov. 6.
Dr. Daryl A. Carter is an associate professor of history and political historian at East Tennessee State University. He lives in Johnson City.