Sunday, July 14, 2024

To be an engaged citizen, vote

Is it wrong not to vote in elections?

An old friend chides me for regularly encouraging people to register to vote and then to vote in local, state, and federal elections. Among the reasons he cites for not having voted since 2012, are that he’s not a fan of any of the candidates running or that his vote is unlikely to make a difference. Nevertheless, I persist in encouraging him and others to register and to vote.

My friend is not alone in choosing not to vote. In the 2020 presidential election, only 66.9 percent of eligible voters chose to vote. That was higher than the turnouts in 2016 (59.2 percent), 2012 (58 percent), and 2008 (62.5 percent). Those voters who didn’t vote in the 2020 presidential election could have made a difference in the outcome given the closeness of four states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. Joseph Biden beat Donald Trump by fewer than 125,000 votes in those four states. Back in 2000, George W. Bush beat Albert Gore by only 537 votes in Florida, a victory that put Bush in office over Gore (with the help of a Supreme Court ruling).

My friend hasn’t voted in state or local elections since 2012 either, even though he acknowledges that elections closer to home are likely to have more of a direct impact on his day-to-day affairs. But voter turnout in state and local elections is typically far worse than in presidential elections. In my home state of Massachusetts, only 51.42 percent of registered voters showed up to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Even closer to my home in Boston, only 18.97 percent of registered voters showed up to vote in the 2023 municipal election.

Unlike the United States, at least 21 countries make voting mandatory. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, an average of roughly 92 percent of eligible voters cast a vote, even though the fine for a first-time offender is only AU$20 (roughly $13 US) for not voting.

We don’t make voting compulsory in the United States and I’m not arguing that we should. My non-voting friend will sometimes chide me for encouraging everyone to vote even if it’s likely many will vote for someone or something he doesn’t like. But I continue to believe that as responsible citizens we should vote and accept the results of any elections even if our candidate or issue doesn’t win. (Full disclosure, in terms of party affiliation, I am registered as an “unenrolled” voter in Massachusetts, which is what my state calls non-party affiliated voters or independents.)

My non-voting friend should not be stripped of any rights (including that of complaining about his elected officials or regulations) because he doesn’t vote. Not voting is his right as a fellow citizen.

But if we truly want to have a voice in how our cities, states, or country are governed, the right thing is to register to vote and then vote in every election for which you are eligible to vote.

To get started, consider consulting BallotReady and Vote 411, a site run by the League of Women Voters. Each site includes information on national and local ballots, as it becomes available. Type in your location to get local election information and then please consider exercising your right to vote.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Is it ever OK to take someone else’s grocery cart?

Is it OK to take someone else’s grocery cart if it seems clear it’s not being used?

Typically, when a reader we’re calling Herman goes grocery shopping, there are dozens of empty grocery carts at the front of the store available for customers to use while shopping. But recently when Herman got to the grocery store, there were no empty grocery carts to be found.

He went to the courtesy counter and asked if there were any empty carts available anywhere but was told that if they weren’t out front, he was out of luck. He was advised to use a small handcart, which Herman knew wasn’t nearly big enough to hold all of the groceries he planned to purchase. Nevertheless, Herman grabbed a handcart and persisted in his grocery shopping adventure.

He quickly noticed that many of the shelves throughout the store were being stacked and that new signs were being placed on various items’ shelves. He also noticed that there were at least 20 shopping carts full of boxes or signs or other items that clerks were using to re-stock shelves.

As he got to the delicatessen counter, Herman noticed there were two grocery carts. Each was half full of empty boxes that had been broken down and laid flat. By the time he reached the deli counter, Herman’s hand cart was already almost full, so he set it on the floor and then proceeded to move the flattened boxes from one grocery cart and put them into the other. He then transferred his groceries from his hand cart into the grocery cart and went on his way.

Herman was concerned that he might have crossed a line by taking the cart. He also was concerned that whoever had been putting those empty boxes into the cart would hunt him down and chastise him for taking it. The latter never happened, but Herman still wonders if he was wrong to transfer the flattened boxes to another cart and then use it rather than finding someone to ask permission first.

I’m with Herman and likely would have done the same thing. The carts were only half full and none of the boxes were full. He didn’t toss anything onto the floor to empty a cart, but found a way to try to minimize any disruption to whoever had been emptying the boxes. He did the right thing by asking the courtesy desk first and then trying to find a solution that might solve his challenge without causing hardship to others.

But a larger question is why the grocery store would tie up all of its grocery carts by having them used for restocking shelves. Also, why wasn’t anyone around to inform customers of the shortage when they entered the store? And why was there no one around many of the grocery carts – including the one Herman took – so a customer could ask about using it? The grocery store management team should have found a way to do its job without causing such a disruption to shoppers. That would have been the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.