Why the Citizens who can should vote:
• Because, on the presidential level, this election poses the clearest choice in decades about the role of government.
• Because each party proffers diametrically different views on how to right the economy, how to provide adequate health care to most Americans, what are necessary services and who should provide them, among other issues of contention.
• Because even in most of the states where the presidential campaign circus did not alight, there are important things to be decided, including which party controls the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and by what majority and which party in what states will control the state legislatures and the governorships.
• Because there are also important issues to be decided. In California, for instance, there was no visible presidential campaign and no real contest for statewide offices, but the tax issues on the ballot will determine the quality of education in the state and what services its government will be able to afford.
• Because, in a larger sense, the healthy democracy depends on the active involvement and consent of the governed.
• Because the most basic act of citizenship is participating in charting the direction of the nation, state and family through one's vote.
Why 95 million American citizens may not:
• Because 50 million American citizens are not registered due, in part, to the United States' unique system requiring the individual citizen to qualify himself or herself through personal registration and re-registration when they move. In almost every other advanced democracy, the government provides the list of qualified voters and all the citizen need do is vote.
• Because in this election, there have been some partisan efforts to make it more difficult for some citizens to vote.
• Because between the claims of potential fraud by one party and suppression and intimidation by the other, the citizenry has been presented a bleak and undeserved view of the integrity of the election process.
• Because a large portion of the electorate have lukewarm and mixed feelings about the major party presidential candidates -- not trusting one to right the economic ship of state in the next four years and not trusting the other as a human being.
• Because the political consultants for the candidates and outside groups have run, by and large, the most distorted and dishonest campaigns in history in the largest volume, in terms of number of ads, in history -- all helping to blacken the name of all candidates and the political process as a whole.
• Because this year's campaign has been devoid of any sense of idealism -- of causes larger than the self.
• Because the current winner-take-all method of choosing electors in all states but two has resulted in the two parties not mounting a presidential campaign in two-thirds of the states -- those in which one party or another has a lock on the partisan presidential result, as in all of New England, except New Hampshire, for the Democrats and most of the South and Utah for the Republicans.
• Because many states have adopted procedures aimed at making it easier for citizens to vote, like no-excuse absentee voting, that actually hurt turnout.
• And, in this year and to a minor degree, Hurricane Sandy whose effects will make it harder for citizens to vote in the states hardest hit by the storm.
But there are larger reasons for diminished citizen involvement in politics. The religion of civic responsibility and duty has atrophied. There has been a decline in both the quality of education and the quality and quantity of civic education in the schools, only now beginning to be righted. The young grow up in homes in which the majority of parents do not vote and a large majority don't discuss politics. Much of the inspiration that drove particularly the educated young to high levels of participation in the 2004 and 2008 elections has been lost.
American politics has become so polarized, now due largely to the Tea Party element and its enablers within the Republican Party, that the public has lost confidence in governance. The ever-greater level of income inequality and the lack of attention by either major party have made the poor feel increasingly left out of the political system and without hope that they might someday share in the American dream. Modern communications technology has atomized and fragmented the citizenry. The potential demise of the print-on-paper newspaper, along with the weakening of both unions and the political parties, has deprived the citizenry of three of the four institutions that formerly provided a commons of shared information and values. Communitarian values have been overwhelmed by libertarian and consumerist values. Cynicism, some deserved, some not, sadly pervades the media.
A durable restoration of democratic health and lasting citizen involvement will not be accomplished by procedural quick fixes. The problems that democracy faces are large and about their remedy, we should not think small.