USA Today Editorial Board
You’ll pay dearly for not voting.
Many Americans are in a foul mood. Just 42% approve of the job President Obama is doing, according to an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. Just 13% approve of Congress. And an overwhelming 66% say the country is heading in the wrong direction.
People are fed up with congressional dysfunction, the slow pace of economic recovery, and the decline in America’s ability to promote order in the world. And, in many key showdowns this fall, they dislike both major party candidates.
As usual for midterm elections, expectations are that most voters will tune out the candidates and stay home on Election Day, just nine weeks away. But that would be a bad idea. For at least these five reasons, voters should be paying attention during the post-Labor Day sprint to Nov. 4:
- You’ll pay dearly for not voting. Politics are brutal to those who don’t vote. At the federal level, the low participation of young voters has produced a government that, not coincidentally, borrows heavily and spends excessively on benefit programs for retirees.
At the local level, look no farther than Ferguson, Mo., where the failure of an African-American majority to vote in large numbers has maintained a white-dominated city government. Whites make up just 29% of the population but account for five of six City Council members, six of seven school board members, and nearly all of the 53 police officers. The city relies on court fees, largely from traffic stops, for 21% of its general fund revenues, with blacks shouldering the overwhelming burden.
This isn’t to suggest that white candidates can’t properly represent the interests of black voters, and vice versa. But when political power is so far removed from demographics, the potential for unrest grows substantially.
- Interest groups thrive on your indifference. The partisan interest groups flooding money into this fall’s elections are trying to keep independents, swing voters and occasional voters home. These voters dilute the groups’ strength and complicate their lives. They would like nothing better than to have elections determined by whichever side can muster more of its true believers.
A robust vote of thoughtful, independent-minded voters would thwart their efforts and prompt big-money donors to question whether they are getting desired results. It would also produce more thoughtful legislators, ones who do not think that compromise is a dirty word.
- Important issues are at stake. The midterms will provide a chance for voters to register their opinion on what is arguably the most important domestic issue under consideration in Congress: immigration. After the surprisingly strong showing by Obama and Democrats in 2012, driven in part by large numbers of Hispanic and Asian voters, Republican leaders pushed for broad changes, only to be rebuffed by the party’s hard-core congressional wing. This year’s election allows voters to express support for the kind of sensible, bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate but has stalled in the House.
The November election will also be the first one since Russia invaded Ukraine, since the Islamic State took control of huge swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, and since last-ditch negotiations began to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The next Congress could well be asked to take fateful votes on war-and-peace issues that will dramatically affect every American.
- Control of the Senate is up for grabs. Democrats have to defend seven Senate seats in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, while Republicans have just one seat up in a state carried by Obama. So there is a real chance that Republicans could net the six seats necessary to recapture a majority.
With that would come further opportunities to restrict Obama. A Republican Senate would make it more difficult to get his nominees confirmed and would provide more opportunities to investigate his actions and policies. Conversely, a relatively strong showing of Democrats would put Republicans on the defensive going into 2016.
- Ballot issues affect your everyday life. Statewide decisions will determine everything from what you can smoke to how much you earn. Oregon and Alaska, for instance, will consider legalizing recreational marijuana, on the heels of Colorado and Washington state. Meanwhile, Alaska, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota will vote on raising the minimum wage, something that’s overdue at the federal level.
None of these reasons for staying engaged means that voters shouldn’t be upset with the nature of politics today. Congress, in particular, has repeatedly failed at basic governance and ignored clear public sentiment. Even so, sitting out the election season only serves the entrenched interests and invites more gridlock.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.