Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 10, 2003

Alarmed by widespread apathy

“People who don’t vote have no line of credit with people who are elected and thus pose no threat to those who act against our interests.” ~ Author and activist Marian Wright Edelman

Dismal. Dismaying. Disappointing. These are just a few of the words that popped into my mind when I read that as few as 25.6 percent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots in what was potentially one of the most pivotal Gilroy elections in recent memory.

And that’s just registered voters. Statewide, roughly 70 percent of Californians who are eligible to vote are registered to vote. Assuming that percentage holds true in Gilroy, that means that less than 18 percent of Gilroyans eligible to cast a ballot participated in this election.

Low voter participation is a complex problem with multiple causes – distrust of politicians, I suspect, is the root of much voter apathy. But not voting doesn’t fix the problem, it only makes it worse, as Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman so succinctly pointed out.

Why would any politician pay more attention to his constituents than to lobbyists and folks with big fat checkbooks when so few citizens will bother to cast a ballot for or against him on election day, no matter what he does?

“I’m stumped. People in our country died for the right to vote. It makes me cry to see Gilroyans be so blasé about it.” ~ Rose Barry, Gilroy First!

We live in a society most people would give their right arms – and many give their lives – to join. One of the main draws of America – besides the obscene wealth we enjoy compared to the impoverished conditions most inhabitants of this planet endure – is that we choose our own leaders. We have a say in our government. We’re not ruled by monarchs who have are leaders by accident of birth, nor are we ruled by dictators who take and keep control with violence and fear.

Instead, most of us were blessed with the coveted gift of American citizenship by an accident of birth and yet, that citizenship, a priceless gift, is treated contemptuously by most people who show only apathy toward the democratic process. It’s shameful.

Not only do people die in attempts to get to this country, countless Americans have died to defend our democracy. Yet, still, somehow, spending a few minutes in a voting booth is too much to ask of most Americans, it seems.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, although more registered voters in the state are Democrats, more Republicans actually cast ballots. The same group points out that California voters are primarily white, even though Latinos, Asians and blacks make up more than half of the state’s population. The PPI notes that voter participation in California is on a steady decline.

It’s said that in a democracy, you get the government you deserve. In a democracy where fewer than 20 percent of voters are motivated to participate in the electoral process, the government you get is going to be increasingly unresponsive to its constituents and steadily more sensitive to special interests, big-money donors and lobbyists. One look at the fiscal and bureaucratic mess in Sacramento should make that plain as day.

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and 50 percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same 50 percent.” ~ Novelist Gore Vidal

Despite all the reasons there are to vote, fewer than 5,000 Gilroyans cast ballots in the just-concluded election in which 11 diverse candidates were vying for a majority of seats on City Council. The outcome of this election had the potential to drastically alter the city’s future and impact Gilroyans’ quality of life. Given the innumerable column inches this newspaper’s opinion page devotes to letter writers and columnists telling us a different direction is just what the city needs, I just don’t understand why so few eligible Gilroyans voted.

I don’t know whether to be sad or mad about voter apathy. On second thought, I think I’m scared.

“Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ‘Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.” ~ Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson



  1. […] long been passionate about the importance of voting. I’m thrilled to see Michiganders taking it […]

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