By Louis R. Avallone
Informed voters, they say, are essential to our democracy. Yet arguably, our democracy has thrived, for all intents and purposes, without informed voters. In 1850, only about 1 out of 2 school-aged children were enrolled in school – and for many of them, believe it or not, attended only one day a year. By 1870, emancipated blacks were granted the right to vote, by way of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, and their formal schooling was even less – 1 out of 10 were enrolled in school.
Fast forward to our modern day electorate, and you’ll see over the past 30 years year that states have begun allowing ex-felons to vote, adding nearly 1 million to the voter registration rolls – and studies have shown that incarcerated people are among the least well educated in our country.
And while 9 out of 10 Americans are highschool graduates today; in the 1950s, only 5 out of 10 were. In the late 1800s, it was only 1 out of 10.
So, as you can tell, formally educated voters have not always been part of our democracy, yet it thrived, nonetheless. By contrast, many would say that we are more informed, better educated today than at any time in our nation’s history, yet voter involvement is still at its lowest point.
But if our country’s formal education level is higher today than it has ever been, why is voter participation at its lowest level since World War II? The most recent, 2014 mid-term election, for example, saw only 36 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots.
It could be, for many voters, not so much that they are uninformed (although many are), but perhaps their “give-a-damn” about the issues is broken. And why wouldn’t it be? Most Americans say that elected officials put their own interests ahead of the people’s, and even more say that cannot trust Washington to do what is right – not even most of the time.
More than half of all Americans believe that government is almost always wasteful and inefficient, and most would NOT even like to see their child enter politics as a career.
And can we blame them? From one Executive Order after another, to a nearly open border with Mexico, to continued deficit spending by Congress, to our skyrocketing national debt of $19 trillion, to our federally controlled education standards, and the rising cost of healthcare, not to mention higher taxes on working Americans, and assaults on our religious liberty or the right to bear arms, it just seems that Washington isn’t listening at all to we, the people.
That gives us a sense that no matter what we do, as voters, we’re largely ineffective at policymaking, or making a real difference on legislation that matters – whether it’s in Washington or in Baton Rouge. So, why bother, at all?
Then, here at home, our Caddo Parish commissioners increased their own salaries 170% since 1995, without asking us. And then we matched their retirement contributions to the tune of almost 2 to 1; for every $1 they contributed to their retirement, the taxpayers contributed almost $2. Again, without asking us.
Also, here at home, our Caddo Parish schools are rated worse than any other school system in our state, as the state of Louisiana has declared that 63% of our schools are failed or failing, even though Caddo Parish taxpayers have spared little expense – contributing nearly $500 million a year towards educating our children.
For all these examples, and many others, as well, it suddenly becomes a question of, “Why bother paying attention?”
I can tell you why bother. Because freedom without participation is meaningless. Because we in America do not have government by the majority, as Thomas Jefferson said, “We have government by the majority who participate”. And we must participate.
The Bible teaches us that the failure to do something that one can, and ought to do, is sinful. James 4:17 reads, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
This means we cannot take the attitude of, “to each his own”. Or looking the other way when there is corruption in our community, or remain at home on election day because we’re too busy. And we shouldn’t ride people out of town on a rail because they propose a new tax or a new law, nor because they oppose the same. Instead, we should get involved.
When we stop being a victim of our circumstances, or otherwise convincing ourselves that that there is nothing we can do to make a difference in Washington or Baton Rouge, our lives will change, and so will our country.
And the best part – you don’t need any formal education to figure that out.