By Marv Knox / Fellowship Southwest
My grandson Ezra loves to think about superpowers. Whether we’re playing with Legos or light sabers, Ezra imagines splendid superpowers. I can pretend I possess superpowers, too. But no matter what power I pick, Ezra always explains why his power pulverizes mine: Speed. Flight. Invisibility. Total knowledge of everything in the universe. And my favorite, the world’s greatest sense of humor. They’re all rock, paper, scissors in Ezra’s mind. Marvo never can compete with the wonderboy.
But what if—incomprehensibly—Ezra chose not to exercise his superpower? He’d be a sucker for his grandpa. I might be old, but he’s only 7. I’d mop the galaxy with his scrawny carcass.
Well, now. Almost every American age 18 and older possesses a superpower. It’s so valuable, hundreds of thousands of people have died to secure it. And as many more have died trying to take it away. If you consider the cost of those lives, you can’t calculate the value of this superpower.
It’s the power to vote, of course. Just as Clark Kent entered phone booths mild mannered and emerged as Superman, Americans enter voting booths timid and hopeful and emerge as Super Citizens. What we do in there changes the fate of our communities, our states, our nation and even the world. When we exercise the right to vote, we exert our power over the course of human events, near and far.
But—incomprehensibly—millions of Americans choose not to exercise their superpower. They could be more powerful than a gazillion-dollar super-PAC, able to leap chasms of cynicism with a single bound. But they wake up on election day, eat kryptonite-laced apathy for breakfast and forfeit their most precious power. That’s when dark-money oligarchs, gerrymandering legislators, voter suppressing sheriffs, social-media manipulators and cynical politicians mop the nation with their scrawny carcasses.
Sadly, I’m not making this up. A modest majority of eligible voters—usually about 60 percent—cast their ballots during presidential-election years. But the numbers fall way off for midterm elections. In 2014, only 36.4 percent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot nationwide. The turnout was even worse in the Southwest. Texas ranked next-to-last nationally in voter turnout, with only 28.5 percent of eligible voters going to the polls. Neighbor Oklahoma came in seventh from the bottom, with 29.8 percent of possible voters exercising their right.
The 2018 midterm elections could produce a higher proportion of voters. The PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Civic Engagement Survey reveals 55 percent of Americans say they are “absolutely certain” they will vote this year, and another 16 percent say they “probably will” vote. Still, 27 percent ranked their chances of voting at 50-50 or less. Worse, that margin jumped to 41 percent for citizens aged 18 to 29.
Voter may be higher than average this year because political passions are running high. A polarizing president and a deadlocked Congress have provided the impetus. What’s more, Americans’ feelings about them—particularly about the president—have flavored how they feel about down-ballot contests. All of a sudden, you can figure out who you prefer for county commissioner by whether or not they agree with the president. And magically, that vote can send a signal to Washington.
But 27 percent of all eligible voters and one in four young voters may forego their superpower and sit this one out. If you’ve ever paid attention to election results, you know without a doubt that 27 percent of eligible voters could turn almost every major election on every ballot.
Besides determining election winners more comprehensively and thoroughly, imagine what would happen if the maybe-voters—those thinking about giving up their superpower—turned out. With a solid engagement by nearly 100 percent of voters, politicians would know where they stand. If Americans fully engaged the political process, they could feel their voices—and not the voices of special interests—were heard. Could a fully engaged public provide pressure for more civil politics? Maybe that’s naïve, but it’s nice to imagine. And wouldn’t it be great to believe in democracy again?
You can put democracy to the test. The steps toward full engagement of American voters begin with you. Here are the best steps to take:
• Vote. You—vote. Vote early if you can. The lines are shorter, and you don’t have to worry about the weather, or illness or other hindrances later. But if you can’t vote early, show up on Election Day, Nov. 6.
• Encourage others to vote. Talk to your family, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, everyone you know. Even if you think they may vote differently than you do, urge them to vote. That’s what democracy is all about.
• If someone says they can’t get to the polls, take them. Eliminate excuses.
• And before you vote, get educated. Learn about the candidates. At least know the basic positions taken by the people who want to be your senator, congressman and state lawmakers.
You’ve got a superpower. Don’t forfeit it. Your state and country need you.