Mark Twain famously once said that if “voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”
It’s that kind of cynicism about the very process of electing men and women to represent us that has plagued our democracy not just for decades, but almost from the very beginning.
Even the Founding Fathers didn’t get voting quite right. Back then, to legally cast a ballot, you had to be a white, male landowner, with rare exceptions. Over time — too much time — those rights were extended to everyone else, including ethnic minorities and, finally, women.
While far more adults are eligible to vote today than are not, the fight to suppress voting is hardly over. Efforts continue to limit who can elect their governmental leaders, and even where that’s not so prevalent, many still choose not to make the effort to mark a ballot and have it counted.
Yes, political rhetoric feels polarizing, because it is polarizing. Believe it or not, however, that’s hardly new. Election rhetoric in the 18th century was so biting and scandalous that if it still existed today, it would make grocery store tabloids like the National Enquirer look like serious journalism.
But we can’t allow any of that to distract us from what democracy truly is — a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That “people” is supposed to be us. Yet it won’t be “by the people” or even “for the people” if we don’t exercise our right to vote over the next couple of weeks.
The 2020 presidential election drew more than 70 percent of registered voters in Nassau County. In this year’s primaries, however, turnout plummeted to just a fraction of that. While the race between Gov. Kathy Hochul and her Long Island challenger, Lee Zeldin, may move more voters than normal to head to the polls, participation will certainly be nowhere near the levels of Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden.
Politicians tend to be afraid of voters, no matter what their political persuasion. And while most face that fear and go with what the people decide, there are others who will fight for your right to vote, as long as that vote is aligned with their interests. That creates governments that are simply not representative of the people they serve, and makes it far easier to manipulate the workings of government for the gain of a select few.
So what if Mark Twain and many people you know believe voting and politics leave a bad taste in their mouths? There is a lot that can be done to make the process more pleasant, but it won’t happen as long as too many of us don’t exercise our right to vote in the first place.
Our ballot this time around is filled with a number of races, from town councils, to the Assembly, to the State Senate, to the U.S. House of Representatives, with a number of judgeships also on the line. It should matter to you who represents you in Albany, just as it should matter to you who represents you in Washington. What’s decided in those two capitals impacts you in every way, from the taxes you pay, to how safe the roads and bridges are around you, to how you can seek health care, and so much more.
Don’t take your right to vote for granted. Casting a ballot is the most direct way to truly make your voice matter. And when you add your voice to the chorus of other civic-minded Americans, we truly can make where we live, work and play the places we want to live, work and play.