Chicago Sun Times
all in the family
March 20, 2002
As you read this, a few lucky
candidates are making the rounds of morning news shows. No rest for
As I write this, it is Tuesday morning, and this
election day still holds the promise that Illinoisans will slog
their way to the polls in record numbers.
Predictions, however, are
that they won't.
And why not? Because non-voters don't want to
declare their party preference. Or so media reports would have us
believe. Asking for either a Democratic or a Republican ballot would
violate their privacy, those media pundits say.
Well, I have yet to
meet any of those non-voters who don't vote because they feel their
privacy is too precious to violate, or any other equally lofty
reason, for that matter. I seem to meet only non-voters who are
lazy. Or apathetic. Or uninterested.
The closest I have ever come
to hearing a lofty reason for not voting is the all-too-common
excuse that the campaign mudslinging is a great big turnoff.
non-voters see it as somehow nobler to stay home than to become a
party to such a poisoned process.
Perhaps it is the sorry social
circles in which I run, but I see only two types of voters: those
who vote and those who don't bother.
And the don't botherers are
The International Institute for Democracy and Election
Assistance conducted a global survey of voter turnout in the 1990s
and ranked the United States at 140--nestled between Chad and
Botswana--with a 44.9 percent average turnout in national elections.
Turn to state and local races in off-year elections, like
Tuesday's, and Americans have stayed away from the polls in droves,
according to the Center for Voting and Democracy. Some local races
have attracted fewer than 10 percent of registered voters--a
statistic that becomes even more disturbing when you realize that
only about half of eligible voters bother to register.
Clinton, the former president everyone loved to hate, was re-elected
in 1996 with a ''mandate'' provided by fewer than one in four
eligible voters. In 1998, the last off-year congressional election,
turnout nationally was just 36.4 percent of registered voters.
Center for Voting and Democracy asked young people to write essays
on why Gen-Xers don't vote in greater numbers. The contest generated
an astounding 9,000 essays.
Some reflected a distressing
disconnection with the political process.
talking about issues that affect young people. Voting won't make a
difference. No one has bothered to educate young people about the
process or the candidates (as though it's our fault they didn't
bother to read the newspaper or log onto a candidate's Web site).
Others offered suggestions on ways to increase participation, from
Internet voting to requiring all candidates to make campaign stops
at college campuses.
But none of the essayists placed blame where
blame is due: on Mom and Dad.
Certainly, it is my parents' fault
that I vote. Or, more correctly, it is my parent's fault that I
wouldn't consider not voting. I have missed only one primary
election in all my years as an eligible voter. I was sidelined with
the flu, but I still suffer pangs of guilt for not having dragged
myself to the polling place to vote, even if it would have meant
contaminating every one of the election judges.
executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, said
studies show that one of the best indicators of whether an
individual will vote is whether his parents vote. When his
organization polls high school students on whether they plan to vote
once they turn 18, those who say their parents vote regularly are
far more likely to indicate they will vote as well.
It doesn't bode
well for a society where even the most compelling of campaigns--to
elect the leader of the free world--can attract only one-fourth of
eligible adults. We can only hope that members of the next
generation conveniently forget what they learned from their parents.