At some point along the way, our democratic right to have our voices heard became kind of like figure skating or gymnastics … something the majority of us only seem to really pay attention to every four years.
People love the Winter and Summer Olympics. We love to wrap ourselves in the American flag and pretend to care about sports about which we couldn’t tell you anything else otherwise. Sure, we can act like we love our Dorothy Hamills and Mary Lou Rettons for two weeks every four years, but what happens after that? And had you ever really heard of them before the Olympics?
It’s not as though those sports disappear for four years before or after the Olympics. Those athletes continue to train and compete 365 days a year. For sports that aren’t as mainstream as others, they usually do in complete anonymity.
During an Olympic year, however, everything changes. We are not good Americans unless we sit in front of our televisions and act like we know what the announcers are talking about in sports we haven’t seen in four years and likely won’t watch again for another four years. Kelly Sue Jane Prescott from Kenosha, Wisc. just won a gold medal in synchronized swimming? Yes! I love her! Slap her on a Wheaties box and let’s throw a parade in her honor!
Then lets forget about her.
Politics, it seems, doesn’t stray too far from this path anymore.
Remember what you were doing this time last year? Chances are, you dialed in on every little thing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said and did. You were debating your friends on social media concerning the various merits of your candidate and the various transgressions of their chosen candidate.
Where are his tax returns?
Where are her emails?
We couldn’t get enough of it. It seemingly consumed our every waking moment.
And, even then, only a fraction of eligible voters in this country actually did so.
Well, the presidential election has come and gone. Now what?
Turns out we’ve got another election coming up in a few days. This coming Tuesday, in case you had forgotten or, quite possibly, hadn’t been paying attention to begin with.
Seriously. Believe it or not, we do have elections more than every four years — twice a year (sometimes more, should the need for a special election arise) — and we are allowed to vote on more than just who becomes the president. And before you get upset and insist you vote in every election (and I know many of you out there do) or dismiss me as condescending, let me hit you with a few facts.
In our last presidential election — you know, one of the big ones — right around 55 percent of eligible Americans actually voted. How does that compare with other nations? In Belgium, 87 percent voted in 2014. In Turkey, 84 percent voted in 2015. In Sweden, 83 percent voted in 2014.
In non-presidential elections, that number drops to around 37 percent. So yes, perhaps you do vote in every election, regardless of what’s on the ballot. But if you do, statistics say there’s two other eligible voters who are not. If you are one of those people who do vote every time, remember that the next time you go to the movies or a sporting event. Look to your left. Look to your right. Chances are, neither of those people voted.
I guess I don’t understand why we seem to care so much about presidential elections (well, as much as 55 percent turnout will allow us to pretend we care, anyway), yet we seem to be able to ignore the local elections. To me, these are the candidates and issues that will be affecting my every day life. Sure, the president may have a hand in deciding the bigger picture issues and the long-term future of our country, but the local elections allow me to vote for things I can utilize every single day.
The local elections allow me to decide on what projects city leaders will spend my money. They allow me to select who will decide how my children will be educated. Will we get new school buildings? What is the future of the bike lanes on the city streets I drive? What will be the future of the parks I visit?
To me, these are all pretty important things. These are the reasons why I won’t pass up my opportunity to make my voice heard on Tuesday.
Hopefully you feel the same way — and just not the same 37 percent of you. Because when we vote for our futures, we all win the gold.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong