Sunday, March 08, 2020
Is It Wrong Not to Vote?
Nov. 3 will mark the first time each of my oldest grandchildren will be old enough to vote in a U.S. presidential election. For them, it will not be a matter of walking to their local polling place on Election Day or finding one that enables them to vote early. The older grandchild is a junior at one university, the younger is at a different university, and each of them lives out of state. If they want to vote, they will have to request, fill out and return an absentee ballot.
Voting is a right, but only 55.7 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election, up slightly from 2012 but down significantly from 2008. There is no legal requirement that any eligible voter must vote. But is it wrong not to?
It's not exactly rocket science to figure out how to vote with an absentee ballot, but it does take some effort. College students and others who will be away from where they are registered to vote must make an effort to register to vote in time and then request an absentee ballot in time. Each state handles registration and absentee voting in its own way. But the federal-government-run website www.vote.gov makes figuring out how to register and vote by absentee ballot relatively simple.
In September 2018, reporter Max Smith wrote on the WTOP News website that a focus group conducted in Fairfax County, Virginia, earlier that year "found many college students who have gotten an absentee ballot simply fail to send it back because a U.S. Postal Service stamp seems to be a foreign concept to them."
Apparently, according to the focus group at least, many college students simply gave up on returning their absentee ballots because they couldn't find a stamp. When I first read that piece, I began occasionally tweeting entreatments for people to vote with the hashtag #oldguywithstamps, reminding college students and others that old people like me typically carry postage stamps with them. They are also available at post offices, at Walmart, on Amazon.com and on other sites. As Ashley Collman reported in Business Insider, the post office will mail an absentee ballot even if it doesn't have postage on it and "charge the local election board."
One college student took me up on an offer of a stamp to help her send her absentee ballot into her state's election board. After affixing the stamp, she asked, "Do you know where I can mail this?" I pointed out a post office two blocks away and a mailbox across the street.
Still, she voted like each of my grandsons plan to do by absentee ballot this year. They've already voted absentee in the primary elections.
None of them were obligated to vote. Neither are you.
But voting enables us to choose those who will become the leaders of our government. Voting provides each eligible citizen a voice in how policies may be shaped that affect our daily lives and those of others. Voting is an affirmation that democracy works best with an informed, engaged electorate.
While it is not illegal not to vote, voting is the right thing to do.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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