As we roamed around the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival and the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, my wife, Ellen, and I had a blast people watching.
But then a thought crossed my mind. How many of these folks will vote this November? How many of them are informed about the issues?
Last weekend, we spent some quality time with our two, twenty-something sons and a few of their friends. A couple of them said, “Why bother voting for President? A few states will decide everything in the Electoral College.”
There’s no arguing America’s founding fathers wanted a hedge on democracy. In fact, they didn’t want a democracy at all. The Constitution creates a representative republic. They really didn’t trust the voters to choose the President.
But state and local elections feature referenda that allow citizens to cast a ballot for or against specific laws. It’s our best example of pure democracy and a great reason to go to the polls.
The diversity of faces in the crowd this Labor Day weekend was impressive. Men and women in saris, a Turkish food stand, sizzling kielbasa and pierogi, Belgian beer, Latin and African-American jazz artists and a Bosnian buffet said more about the challenge of uniting America than any words I could string together. But the ethnic mix made me think of my own immigrant parents and how much they valued their American citizenship and the right to vote.
For those who don’t remember the struggle, voting seems more like a quant custom than the voice of the people. But it’s the people who choose the judge, the dog catcher, the county clerk, the state reps and the mayor and governor. And those are the folks who levy the fines, impose the fees, decide the zoning and impact the salaries and policies of local law enforcement. Now, if you don't’ care about those issues, don’t bother voting.
As for the Presidential election, the Electoral College is a peculiarity that deserves United Nations observers, but it’s part of our Constitution and has been since the beginning. If you don’t bother voting, there’s always the possibility that a powerful majority will one day amend the Constitution to eliminate voting for President as we know it.
Sound ridiculous? Sure, but freedom is something that must be protected and defended. There’s a lot of sentiment in this country about supporting the troops that sacrifice so much and risk everything to guarantee our freedom. To honor their service, we should seriously exercise our voting rights and do what we can to protect the inner workings of our nation. We owe it to them to be well-informed voters, too, on all the issues on our ballots.
Finally, Presidential elections are about more than who wins or loses. They’re about consequences like Supreme Court appointments and forward-looking legislation, even war and peace. The more votes a President receives, the more political capital and power he or she has. A squeaker election usually means a divided Congress that reflects a divided country. But that’s not how you get change, especially when change is required.
We’ve got two months to do our homework to prepare for the polls. Remember, we’re the change we seek.