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The Last Word

No Reason Good Enough Not to Vote

By David O'Neal

The general election on Nov. 3, 1992 was of profound consequence. A new administration took over Washington after 12 years of Reagan/Bush. Native-son Bill Clinton would lead that new administration, becoming the first Arkansan to hold the nation’s highest office.

And at age 18, it was the first of seven consecutive “generals” in which I would vote – up to and including 2016.

Twenty-six years ago, I couldn’t wait to vote, and I still get excited in anticipation of Election Day. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm, though. Nationwide, only around 55% of U.S. citizens voted in the 2016 general election – about the same as 1992. The midterms have an even lower voter participation rate.

Why do slightly less than half of our citizens forgo this fundamental right? Apathy? Ignorance? A different value-set?

I can understand how apathy, or maybe a combination of exhaustion and frustration from the unceasing barrage of negative ads can push people to disengage. To say, “They’re all the same, so my vote doesn’t matter.”  Or a close-cousin, “They’re all the same and none of them are worth my vote.”

And then there are those who don’t vote because they don’t follow a candidate or issue closely enough to make an informed decision. Rather than voting for the “wrong” person or issue, they willingly leave it to the rest of the electorate. And this too is easy to understand. If you don’t have a compelling opinion (or better, fact-based reasoning) to begin with, it’s not always easy to decipher if the swamp is being drained or just restocked.

Finally (at least for this space, because there are many more factors that we don’t have room for here), the act of voting, for some, is prioritized somewhere between getting groceries, getting the kids to (your sport goes here) practice, working and having dental work performed. It’s just not that high on the list.

But it should be!

Whether it’s a vote for your local school board, city council or U.S. president, we need more engagement with the candidates and issues that impact our lives every day. But more than engagement, we need education around those candidates and issues – and not just what we can glean from social media and cable TV ads. 

Indeed, we’re inundated with information, ads and appeals for support, so it’s incumbent upon us to separate fact from fiction, and fake news from the real thing. It’s not an easy lift because our own biases can cloud our discernment. It’s much easier for confirmation-bias to creep in – to tune in on the elements of a story that we want to believe to be true, and disregard that which doesn’t fit our mold or view of the world.

Apathy, disillusionment with the system, feeling uneducated and unmotivated to answer the question of how to make our communities and nation better are valid reasons for not voting. Maybe they are good reasons, but no reason is good enough not to do it anyway.

I vote out of some combination of civic duty, civic pride and the knowledge that there are millions around the world who don’t have the right or ability to do so.

As much as I’ve voted for some candidates, I’ve decidedly voted against others. I’ve voted for issues and referendums that I didn’t fully support, but decided not to let perfect get in the way of good enough.

It’s an imperfect world we live in – a fact recognized by the Founding Fathers in the Preamble to the Constitution, “…in order to form a more perfect union.” While we may never fully get there, voting is a key mechanism that can help drive us closer toward improving, if not perfecting, our nation.

In The Wit and Wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. president said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

On the Nov. 6 midterm Election Day, don’t let perfect get in the way of good, and don’t get in your own way of contributing to a more perfect union.

David O’Neal is the vice president of safety and industry engagement at the Arkansas Trucking Association.


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