I was really happy to find my ballot in the mailbox last week because it gave me the opportunity to complete decisions I have been contemplating for many weeks. Returning the ballot to the County fulfilled an important responsibility that will influence not only my life, but the lives of my family in the years ahead.
I know one vote usually doesn’t decide elections, and I also know that many of the candidates or measures I’ve supported over the years were soundly defeated. Despite my mixed record of success, I continue to believe my small contribution to the democratic process carries much greater weight than the outcome of a particular election.
Voting legitimizes government and makes it a tool of all who participate in the process of sustaining it. Representative government is an imperfect tool, but it gives us the ability to collectively plan for the future and respond to pressing problems. Our government, like any tool, can be abused or misused and, like any tool, can be repaired or used more effectively. Voting is an essential step in controlling and guiding the tool so that it is used to benefit the widest range of people and interests. I think people who are continually angry at government are those who are unwilling to acknowledge the interests of others by doing the hard work necessary to reconcile differences. Voting is a small but essential part of that work.
Some people seem to believe that public employees vote as a bloc and only support candidates who promise more resources. My experience suggests a very different story, where public employees are likely to reflect the values and political beliefs of the communities where they live and work. Many sources suggest that family is the most important factor in determining an individual’s political affiliation. In other words, our work is much less likely to influence our vote than the political views of our parents.
Regardless of what influences how we vote, the act of voting is a basic responsibility of citizenship. Letting apathy or cynicism serve as an excuse for not voting is a victory for autocracy or worse. Many city managers I’ve known through the years have lost their jobs as the result of an election, but I believe all of them would vigorously defend the system (not necessarily the people) that led to their termination. I don’t expect to lose my job as a result of the upcoming election, although I made an agreement with myself many years ago to respect the judgment of the elected officials who are my bosses even if that judgment means my departure. Many people have given much more than their jobs to protect our right to vote. We owe them our commitment to the ideals they sacrificed for by simply exercising that right.