Our rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy re­quires the peo­ple to vote

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - Reprinted from the New Bern Sun Journal.

We don’t buy into the ar­gu­ment that “If you don’t vote, don’t com­plain.” That’s not the way our sys­tem of gov­er­nance works. Hav­ing voted prob­a­bly does give those com­plaints more cred­i­bil­ity. More im­por­tant, how­ever, is the fun­da­men­tal fact that our en­tire sys­tem of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy re­lies on the peo­ple hav­ing their voices heard through the of­fi­cials they elect.

Any­thing that im­pedes our elected of­fi­cials from be­ing true rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple un­der­mines the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples we say we cher­ish. But it’s about much more than just prin­ci­ples and ideals. When the will of the peo­ple is not be­ing fairly and gen­uinely re­flected and ful­filled by their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, our sys­tem of gov­er­nance starts to break down in very prac­ti­cal ways.

That is why we are so in­fu­ri­ated by po­lit­i­cal ger­ry­man­der­ing, no mat­ter which party is be­hind it. Ger­ry­man­der­ing un­der­mines the vi­tal link be­tween the mem­bers of the pub­lic (who ul­ti­mately are meant to be the gov­er­nors) and their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives (who are meant to do the gov­ern­ing only on be­half of the peo­ple). That es­sen­tial link also starts to fail when the peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives give more clout to cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als and groups based on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

But there is an­other very im­por­tant way that that line of author­ity from the peo­ple to their elected of­fi­cials fails: When the peo­ple don’t ful­fill their nec­es­sary role of be­ing in­formed and di­rect­ing their rep­re­sen­ta­tives on how to man­age our civic af­fairs.

Of course, the pri­mary way the peo­ple give those di­rec­tions is by vot­ing.

In 2016, there were about 231 mil­lion Amer­i­cans el­i­gi­ble to vote. An­other way to look at it is that there were 231 mil­lion peo­ple who, in our repub­li­can form of gov­ern­ment, are counted on to gov­ern our na­tion. About 137 mil­lion (59 per­cent) of the “gov­er­nors” didn’t per­form their most im­por­tant civic duty.

If all 231 mil­lion “gov­er­nors” had done their duty and voted, would the over­all elec­tion re­sults have been dif­fer­ent? It’s hard to say. Maybe we got lucky and the 137 mil­lion vot­ers who ful­filled their re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­vided a cor­rect sam­pling of the gen­eral will of the peo­ple. But if that is not the case, we end up with a big dis­con­nect be­tween the in­ten­tions of the over­all pub­lic and the in­di­vid­u­als who have been se­lected to ful­fill those in­ten­tions.

Over the past sev­eral decades, that dis­con­nect has been on the rise, it seems — or at least has be­come more mag­ni­fied. So has the peo­ple’s con­tempt for their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. We can’t help but think that those prob­lems are caused by things like ger­ry­man­der­ing, ex­tra clout given to special in­ter­ests and too many peo­ple not vot­ing.

When the early vot­ing pe­riod be­gins, at least one of those prob­lems can be reme­died.

No one is re­quired to vote. If you don’t vote, you still can com­plain. But we would ar­gue that the most im­por­tant rea­son to vote is this: It is the most ef­fec­tive way by which the peo­ple — the in­tended gov­er­nors — do that gov­ern­ing.

When the “gov­er­nors” do not vote, our sys­tem does not fully work.

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