On Tuesday, November 6th, citizens will visit the polls to cast ballots not just for the presidential candidate of their choice, but also candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, state legislatures, state judiciaries, county councils, state attorneys general, and other positions and ballot initiatives depending on one's state of residence and district location. The importance of exercising this most fundamental right cannot be overstated. The tireless struggles and sacrifices of many of our more enlightened forbearers to remove unjust restrictions, end voter intimidation and suppression practices, and enfranchise previously marginalized groups, should not be taken in vain. To honor their legacy, all eligible and registered voters must make their voices heard on Election Day.
In 2008, the voting-eligible population (VEP) highest office turnout rate was 61.6 percent. In the 2010 mid-term election, the VEP highest office turnout rate was 41 percent. These statistics reflect the need for greater political awareness, more civic institutions, and targeted citizen empowerment.
On November 6th, voters will make decisions about who they think is best qualified to confront the range of challenges facing the country--a struggling education system, the world's highest incarceration rates, chronic unemployment, antiquated infrastructure, the long-term budget deficit, and climate change are just a few of major dilemmas on the horizon.
After months of stump speeches, canvasing, and fundraising, the partisan and echo-chamber-friendly talking points will dissipate (albeit briefly) on Wednesday. That morning, Americans will wake up after a night of celebrating (or mourning) the victories (or losses) of their preferred candidates. Campaign posters will come down, volunteer offices will close, and the victory and concession speeches will be analyzed by the pundits.
Although it does mark the end of long and grueling campaigns, the day after Election Day should not be perceived as the end, but rather, the beginning. Yes, as citizens we vote for the individuals that we perceive to be best qualified to address the issues that we value. However, no single elected official can face the enormity of all of the problems alone. Furthermore, the personal access that many campaign donors and special interest groups have to decision makers in Washington, D.C. can make it difficult for citizens without those privileges to have their voices heard.
For all those interested in quality education for all, ladders to prosperity instead of a pipelines to prison, new well-paying jobs, revitalized infrastructure, responsible deficit reduction, and climate change progress, November 7th will be a day of possibility and promise for citizen action. Regardless of which political party assumes or retains power, it will be up to the citizens to hold their elected officials accountable and ensure that their voices are not easily ignored.
During a speech at the University of California at Berkeley in 1966, Robert F. Kennedy said, "The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society." For those who have not taken advantage of early voting, or cast an absentee ballot, Election Day will be the opportunity to exercise the most fundamental right of our democracy. This action should be step one of a series of measures that every citizen can take to inspire broader civic engagement. Whether this engagement comes in the form of a letter to your congressperson, attendance at school board meetings, a petition for a particular issue, a song that inspires and unites, board membership at a trusted community organization, participation in community-service projects, or presence at a protest rally, each citizen can make a contribution to building a bold, inspirational future that is worthy of the next generation's accolades. Together, we can solve the problems facing our country. Our work begins on November 7th.