It’s time to make your voice heard

Election Day is Nov. 8, but many states make it possible for citizens to cast ballots over a period of weeks in advance of that date. Here in Iowa the early voting option began Thursday.

Those Americans who choose to vote have the opportunity to shape the future of our community, state and nation. Given the impact American policies have almost everywhere in the world, it is really no exaggeration to say that the voices of this country’s voters are heard all over the planet.

Amazingly, many people choose not to vote. That poses a serious threat to our democratic system. American governmental institutions won’t work as intended if citizens fail to express their preferences by voting.

Some political scientists say one of the biggest reasons for this nonparticipation is that nonvoters claim the outcome of elections doesn’t have an impact on their lives. It also is common for people who don’t show up at the polls to justify their choice not to cast a ballot by arguing that their vote won’t really matter because so many votes are cast.

If you are one of those who think that individual voters don’t matter, it may be useful to reflect a bit on history.

In the 2000 presidential election, if a few more people had showed up to vote in Florida, George W. Bush might now be known primarily for his service as governor of Texas. In 1960, the presidential vote was so close that the outcome was decided by about one vote per precinct nationwide. Right here in Iowa, in the 1998 Democratic primary, Tom Vilsack won his party’s nomination by less than two votes per precinct.

A few nonvoters could have altered subsequent history mightily.

More troubling is the belief some people hold that who wins will have no impact on them personally.

That notion may, in part, be the product of living in a country where democratic institutions have been the norm so long that people assume they always will be. The only guarantee that those institutions will survive, however, is citizen vigilance.

Over time, such nonparticipation undermines the legitimacy of the governmental system. It becomes hard to claim that officeholders reflect the will of the public when so many people had no role in their selection.

On Nov. 8 (or earlier if one makes use of Iowa’s convenient early voting option), we all have the chance to demonstrate we understand that the right to vote is precious. Defend your democratic birthright by voting in this year’s election either in the next few weeks or on the official Election Day.