The complaints I’ve heard recently about low voter turnout and sparse attendance at Veteran’s Day celebrations have sparked an idea.
In Santa Clara County, 47 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Nov. 5 general election. Even though that’s less than half of the county’s registered voters, many more people cast ballots than officials forecast – 30 to 35 percent voter turnout is what experts predicted for the mid-term election.
In the United States, 45 percent of voters cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election, the first time since 1876 that a president was elected with fewer popular votes than his opponent.
The Center for Voting and Democracy has an eye-opening chart on its Web site that lists voter turnout in 34 countries. The United States, the cradle of democracy, the country that likes to think of itself as the leader in individual freedom and rights, is the third lowest-country on that chart. In the last 10 years the average turnout of voters in the United States (50 percent) is lower than turnout in Argentina (81 percent), Italy (90 percent), Turkey (80 percent) and Thailand (62 percent), Mexico (58 percent) and Australia (83 percent), to name just a few countries on a few continents.
Voting is a touchy subject with me. I’ve written more than one column mentioning my disgust with and lack of understanding of low voter turnout. I admit it – I don’t get why electing a president with half a million fewer popular votes than his opponent, nor the Sept. 11 assaults on all this country represents didn’t prompt the vast majority Americans to take a few minutes to vote.
Now we have soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands more involved in a possible war with Iraq, yet Veteran’s Day seems to have hardly been a blip on American consciousness. Nor did the prospect of war get people to the polls.
For most people Veteran’s Day means a day off from school, no mail delivery and some (depending on where you live) snowy, frosty or soggy ceremonies. It just doesn’t seem to me to be a fitting thank you to the men and women who have served in this country’s armed forces.
After all, veterans have given their time, energy, careers, limbs, health and lives to ensure that America remains free. For me, the highest, holiest and best representation of that freedom is the right to vote.
Don’t like the job your representative is doing? Vote for his opponent.
Can’t stand that school board member’s position on reading lists? Give her the boot in the voting booth.
Love the way a fresh face thinks about the environment? Punch her name at on your ballot.
Want to keep the incumbent’s transportation plans on the table? Vote for him to have another term.
So here’s my modest proposal. Let’s combine Veteran’s Day and Election Day. Veteran’s Day would remain a national holiday, but moved to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Most important, in conjunction with this change, we would instill a cultural expectation that the best way for citizens thank our country’s veterans is to vote. Get some Madison Avenue and Hollywood types on the marketing, and soon voting and Veteran’s Day would be hotter than Harry Potter, cooler than The Sopranos, more in-demand than Jennifer Lopez’s wedding planner.
I think this is a great plan. It makes it easier for lots of people who’d have the day off to vote. It frees folks to work the polls, which are perennially short of election officials. Most public school kids would have the day off, so Mom and Dad could take them with them to vote, passing down to the next generation the importance of voting and the debt of gratitude all Americans owe our veterans.
Like my brilliant idea? Write your senators and congressmen. The time is right to take radical steps to make voting and Veteran’s Day more widely observed and meaningful.