Our representative democracy requires the people to vote
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.