(Tina Barton, MMC, CMMC, Rochester Hills Clerk, July 23, 2017)
As a certified municipal clerk for several years now, I have seen a wide array of responses to the privilege of voting. I have met those who have been literally fighting for their life due to a disease or ailment, and still insisted on making sure that they had the opportunity to vote. Conversely, I know citizens of this amazing country who aren’t even registered to vote – and don’t intend to ever be. The response not only varies by the individual, but also can vary based on the type of election. Federal elections have a much higher percentage of voter turnout than local elections. There are arguments that voting should be mandatory, but the opposition would argue that we are a country based on freedoms and abilities to do things or not to do things. Regardless of when the election is held or who or what is on the ballot, your vote has power.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” While there was a large gap in time where not all citizens could vote and the ballot box was prohibited to some based on gender or race, I find the ballot box now to be the great equalizer. When you mark your ballot and cast your vote, the ballot, nor the machine, care about your race, gender or religion. It is one place that our opinions all carry the same weight.
Your vote has purpose. A vote may be cast to elect someone to office, remove someone from office, or to return someone to office. Your ballot may consist of questions that are “yes” or “no” answers; perhaps your school or local government is seeking additional funding. The state in which you live may be looking to the voters to pass, alter or repeal a law. Regardless of what you are voting on, your vote takes the side of “yes, I want us to do this” or “no, I do not want us to do this”. Because of the purpose of the vote, we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the electorate to do our homework and investigate candidates and read up on proposals. Being an educated voter empowers you to vote with intention and purpose. The power of a vote requires the participation of the voter.
I am befuddled at the amount of voters that will vote in a federal election in comparison to a local election. I define local elections as “the time when 20% of the people decide for 100% of the people what will impact all of them in about 90% of their daily lives.” I am completely in support of voting in federal and/or state elections – we should vote in high numbers at these elections. At the same time, our local elections should see an equal amount of voters going to precincts. Local ballots consist of city council members and mayors, township trustees/supervisors/clerks/treasurers, and local millages and proposals. Your local officials are the ones adopting budgets, creating ordinances, determining public safety decisions, and voting on parks and recreation issues…to name a few. Our local officials are making decisions on the very items that we consider to be quality of life issues. Yet, in a room full of 100 people, 80 people are willing to remain silent and relinquish their power to the 20 people that will cast a ballot. In silence, you are relinquishing power and control over your daily life to a small number of people that you may or may not know. Voter apathy can result in bad government.
It’s not always about winning. That’s a tough sentence for me to write because I am a very competitive person. I’ve had people say to me, “Why should I vote, I know that the candidate I like isn’t going to win.” Or “Why should I vote, I know the proposal isn’t going to pass.” And, maybe there have been times when they were right, their candidate didn’t win and their proposal didn’t pass. Sometimes, our vote isn’t only about electing a candidate or passing a proposal. Sometimes, our vote sends a message that the culture is changing and what was once acceptable is no longer or the candidate that was once the favorite now has a large group that isn’t happy with them. You see, your vote has the power to signal that change is occurring. Your vote – your voice – can spark a revolution.
We live in an amazing country where many who have gone before us fought for our freedom to walk into a precinct, receive a ballot, and cast a vote. As voters, we all stand on equal footing. Your vote creates the world you will live in, shapes the ideology your children will be exposed to, and determines the rights and values that will become laws that govern your life. Your vote has power. Your vote is your voice. Are you willing to be silent?
EDITOR NOTE: Oakland County Times is doing a series of candidate interviews for those running for local office anywhere in Oakland County. The main page for this is https://oaklandcounty115.com/2017/07/01/2017-candidate-interviews/.