On a recent Oprah Winfrey (search) program, actresses Drew Barrymore (search) and Cameron Diaz (search) were driven to separate tearful breakdowns over the apathy and disinterest they encountered in their efforts to convince people — particularly young people and women — to vote on Nov. 2.
As someone who has participated in some non-partisan voter registration drives this year, I can understand and share their frustration. While I have not been moved to tears, I have struggled with a rising contempt for the "American public" the candidates are trying so hard to woo.
Unlike Barrymore and Diaz, I was prepared to encounter apathy and disinterest. What I was not prepared for was the number of people who seemed — for lack of a better way to describe their position — to be actually against voting. These anti-voters waved me off with such disdain and disgust, you'd think I was about to spritz them with a department store fragrance. Others would rush past me, heads lowered, shoulders high, as if I were carrying an infectious disease they might catch through eye contact.
And then there were those anti-voters who would proudly declare, "I don't vote!" — as if they had discovered a more enlightened path than those of us still toiling under the delusion that democracy was worth preserving.
Many anti-voters took the time to share the specifics of their position: They didn't like any of the candidates; they didn't like the primary system; they didn't like the two-party system; they didn't like the electoral college; they didn't think their vote mattered; they "weren't interested in politics"; and some variation of "politicians are all a bunch of crooks."
While these are all legitimate grievances, they are not legitimate reasons for disenfranchising oneself from the system. They are, in fact, reasons to vote; anyone truly concerned with these problems would be trying to remedy them through voting. Anti-voters don't care about these problems; if they did, they would be impassioned voters, not anti-voters. Anti-voters are not turned off. They are intentionally tuned out.
There was also this excuse: Anti-voters don't want to serve on jury duty. Let's consider this for a moment. What fundamental tenet of American democracy could possibly rank up there with the right to vote? Hmmm. Could it possibly be the right to a fair trial? Sacrificing the right to vote in order to avoid serving on a jury represents a surplus of ignorance and a deficit of morality so severe ... I don't have the words to finish this sentence. I suppose anti-voters at least score points for consistency here. Across the board, democracy and liberty are just not their thing.
(Note to anti-voters: In many states, it's your driver's license, not your voter registration, that puts you in the jury pool. Ha. Ha. Ha.)
And then there were the people who honestly didn't seem to grasp the concept at all. I don't know how many times I would ask someone about registering only to have them respond, "Vote for what?"
In past elections, voter apathy and low voter turnout have been blamed on prolonged peace and prosperity. Complacent and content voters need crisis and hardship to fire them up, the argument went. This theory, perhaps, has been somewhat proven by the record number of new voters who have registered this election and the turnout expected at the polls. But if true, it really makes you wonder about the remaining anti-voters out there.
If the issues and choices facing voters in 2004 aren't enough to fire them up, what more could these people possibly need?
The sad truth is that, given the aggressive efforts of activist groups to register people — not to mention the war, the issues, the media, the nasty, brutal campaign — it would be nearly impossible for anyone with two brain cells and a heartbeat to remain an unregistered voter at this time ... unless he wants to be. Unless he is a committed anti-voter.
And, considering the volume of apathy and ignorance required to be an anti-voter in 2004, perhaps this is a group our democracy could, quite frankly, do without.
But that doesn't mean we should let the anti-voters off the hook. Americans are quite skilled at demonizing and punishing those who fail to toe the popular line. Anti-voters should be subjected to the same fear of social ostracism and cultural peer pressure that works so effectively in forcing us to keep up with the Joneses in other areas of our lives. Don't invite anti-voters to your parties. Don't let your kids play with their kids. Ignore them when you run into them at the supermarket.
Those of us under a certain age have been told that this is the most important election of our lifetimes. Yet, there are many well-informed people who still make the argument, quite reasonably, that George W. Bush and John Kerry are not all that different from each other, that the two-party system that monopolizes the process and flushes out candidates like Howard Dean (search) and John McCain (search) no longer provides Americans with a real choice. But here's a novel thought for the election of 2004: Voting is possibly not so much about the candidates as it is about the process.
Consider, for example, the deluge of media reports that this year's voter registration volume and expected high turnout are crippling our election system. They can't process the forms. There's going to be chaos, if not violence, at the polls. The local election officials who complain daily about having to do too much of their job this year don't want us to vote. They are trying to scare us into staying home. Think about that. It doesn't matter whether their motive is to boost the chance of a favored candidate or simple laziness and incompetence. They're trying to suppress the vote.
Now consider this obsession with swing states. I live in New Jersey, a state considered such a rich hue of blue that we've been all but ignored by both candidates. I've been told by both the media and the candidates that my vote doesn't matter. So why should I bother? Because this, too, is a form of voter disenfranchisement.
This is why we must vote.
Be mean to an anti-voter today.