• 36°

Why don’t more of us vote?

I have a friend in Australia. Although unrelated we first met online while researching family history. We would develop a friendship, and over more than a decade the two of us would Skype on a regular basis. John, a professor and consultant, is a curious type, as am I. Over the years we would explore and debate the similarities and differences between our two countries.

Like clockwork, as our election time would approach he would ask, “why don’t more Americans vote?” He would point out that in Oz almost everyone votes. In fact, Australia has one of the highest voter turnouts (over 90%) in the developed world. In the United States, just over 61 percent voted in 2016.

Feeling compelled to defend the Stars and Stripes, I point out Australia has compulsory voting. If an Aussie doesn’t vote, they face a fine. I ask if it is a fair comparison when they are obligated to vote, while here in the United States it is a choice. I argue that in the US it can take a couple of election cycles to purge eligible voter rolls. I further argue that not voting is a vote in itself.

Of course, I don’t fully buy any of my arguments, but I thought I gave it my best shot. So why do so many of us fail to vote? I have never found it that difficult. With early voting it is more convenient. We can vote on our time.

America was founded from revolution. Our founders knew this and set up a system where every two, four and six years we could overthrow our government. Overthrow it not with blood, but with a ballot. A bloodless coup. If we don’t like out president, senator, congressman, mayor or council member, we don’t lop off their head, we just don’t vote for them; tell them to pack their bags and go away.

It isn’t as if over our history we haven’t earned the right to vote. In early America, it wasn’t so much a privilege to vote as it was the privileged can vote. Most states only allowed white men who owned property to cast a vote. Everyone else earned the privilege to vote through lobbying, protests, legislation. Many faced jail time, beatings and even death to secure the right to vote.

In 1792, states began abolishing the property rights voting qualification and by 1856 North Carolina became the last state to abolish the property qualification. It wasn’t until 1868 that naturalized citizens were guaranteed a vote. It wasn’t until 1920 that women could vote, Native Americans were granted the unrestricted vote in 1924 and it wasn’t until 1943 for most Chinese immigrants. The 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed after African Americans and other minorities won a hard fought and often brutal effort to cast the ballot. So why don’t more of us vote?

Often a friend or acquaintance tells me they don’t vote because nothing will change or my vote doesn’t count. I point out that in the most recent Manteo municipal election, a commissioner’s seat had to be decided by a coin toss. If only one more person had voted, that election would have been decided by choice instead of a game of chance. One vote can make a difference.

The next time my friend from down under asks me why more Americans don’t vote, I think I will answer, “I don’t know, I don’t understand it.”

I take comfort in the knowledge he has never asked me to explain the Electoral College. That would be like explaining baseballs infield fly rule to a cricket fan.

Gregory Clark is a reporter for The Coastland Times. Reach him at greg.clark@thecoastlandtimes.com.

MORE FROM GREGORY CLARK:

Column: Evacuation isn’t for cowards

Lifestyles

Dare vaccination clinics continue, registration open for eligible groups

News

Moody’s upgrades Dare County’s issuer bond rating

News

Man brandishing rifle shot by police in North Carolina

News

North Carolina promises more vaccines for providers hit by shortfalls

News

NC jobless aid office addressing millions in overpayments

News

Man hits two deer with new car, then discovered he hit $2M in lottery

News

Dare County budget amendments aim to help county employees

News

Outer Banks photographer sparks debate over mysterious flying object in the night sky

News

Teen sustains life-threatening injuries in Kill Devil Hills crash

News

The magnificent frigatebird, a rare visitor to the Outer Banks

Lifestyles

Dare County Library announces virtual enrichment series

News

Manteo returning to subscription-based recycling service

News

Federal report says pandemic hit seafood industry hard

Hyde

UPDATED: Hyde County man fatally shot while duck hunting Monday afternoon

News

Large-scale events in other parts of NC mean fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Dare and other counties

News

Transition to mass vaccination sites irks NC health systems

Crime

Sheriff: Two North Carolina children abandoned in Mississippi; one dies

Crime

Kill Devil Hills man charged with gun violations

News

Grandma’s lucky numbers win Sampson County woman half of Cash 5 jackpot

News

NC-bound plane returns to gate after being hit by bird during takeoff

News

North Carolina, Catawba tribe ink casino revenue agreement

Currituck

Currituck Extension offers on-demand cooking and food preservation classes

Hyde

Hyde County Schools announces 2020-21 Beginning Teacher of the Year

News

North Carolina field hospital helps fight coronavirus surge