Any number of people are pointing fingers and beating chests in response to only 30% of Jacksonville, Florida’s registered voters taking part in the latest round of the Mayoral selection process. As a strong believer in citizenship as a bundle of obligations (to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, to provide material support, to draft legislation and to enforce the law), I certainly agree that 30% is not a good showing.
However, this is a free country and we are free not to shoulder some of our obligations, or even none at all, on any given day. If that makes us freeloaders, so be it. On the other hand, even the most conscientious among us can’t be expected to carry out obligations all of the time. We can take turns and taking turns makes it possible for every citizen to contribute his/her fair share. Besides, if the candidates for public office are all well qualified, then the hiring process isn’t even as important as, for example, providing material support (paying taxes) and enforcing the law, especially as it applies to ourselves. Obligations to which we subscribe and consent needn’t be onerous.
On the other hand, low voter participation in elections is not a happenstance. Ever since universal suffrage became the law of the land, the opponents of popular government (government by the people) have put a lot of time and effort into depressing the electorate. And not just on election day. Voter suppression is a 24/7/365 endeavor supported by a wide array of tools and strategies, including, but not limited to:
1) Restricting eligibility and purging voter rolls.
2) Scheduling elections on work days.
3) Touting elections as horse races or popularity contests, instead of a hiring process.
4) Denigrating governments as social institutions.
5) Promoting incompetent persons for public office to insure poor service, if not failure and fraud.
6) Calling candidates’ personal characteristics into question.
7) Attacking candidates’ associates and relatives and depriving them of privacy and, sometimes, security.
8) Substituting the idea of democracy-in-a-box for democratic governance.
All strategies obviously designed to support the proposition that if universal suffrage can’t be reversed, then the next best thing is to “thin” the electorate by any means possible. Low voter participation is a sign of conservative success.
But, if citizens come to appreciate that the conservatives who slipped into office under false pretenses are not serving their interests, the last thing they should do is blame themselves for not having been aware of the punitive polls in their midst. A lot of effort went into keeping them in the dark.
Which suggest that the next time around, they’ll be wanting to get both mad and even. And demand better candidates, for a start, even if they have to recruit their friends and neighbors or do it themselves. Self-government isn’t a burden, if we all take turns.