Letter writer finds persistent pattern of low voter turnout troubling

To the editor:

The United States of America is not a democracy — not actually.

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens vote on all the laws that are passed. It may have been effective in ancient Athens, but it would never work in a nation of more than 300 million citizens.

So we have a representative republic; we elect people to represent us in Congress, and they vote on the laws — according to our wishes, we hope. Often they don’t, and this leads to pretty regular complaints about ineffective government, oversized government, out-of-touch government.

Once in a while, though, we get the chance to vote on things which directly affect our lives. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, two measures passed — one a new restriction on smoking in public places in our county, the other a tax increase. Just under 20 percent of registered voters bothered to show up at the polls. I’m not going to pretend that I’m dissatisfied by this — I voted “yes” on both, one wholeheartedly, the other somewhat reluctantly.

What does bother me is the persistence of this pattern of low voter turnout. Every day I hear people sobbing and moaning about big government and its intrusions in our lives. But when they are given the chance to make their voices heard directly, they are missing in action.

Sure, we get big turnout for presidential elections, sometimes on mid-term elections when a lot of Senate and congressional seats are being contested. But these small elections in which taxes are raised, bond issues are passed, school boards are elected — the kind of things that make a direct impact on our daily lives — attract only a dedicated few voters.

So the next time we’re sitting at home complaining about county government or state government or federal government, we should ask ourselves when was the last time we bothered to make our voices heard? I believe that for about 80 percent of us, it may have been quite a while. We get the government we deserve; we should try to deserve better.

Tom Cooper