Last Tuesday, Pennsylvania offered all of its adult citizens a major say in the future of our Commonwealth.
And about five out of every six of them responded, “Nah, thanks, but I’ll pass.”
They said: “I won’t do this one simple thing to help my state get better. I will, however. reserve the right to whine, moan, bitch and cynically joke about everything done by the people who moved toward public office last Tuesday without any input from me.”
Super thinking. Great choice.
The 17 percent turnout of eligible voters in last Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary elections was, in a word, pathetic.
Wait, I have a few more words: Embarrassing. Shameful.
Of course, there wasn’t much at stake. Just the future of a Commonwealth with rotten job growth, shaky finances, crumbling bridges, dying cities and dysfunctional schools. Not to mention the makeup of the congressional delegation that serves as Pennsylvania’s voice in Washington, D.C.
Last Tuesday, I dashed home during a break at work to cast my ballot in my new city neighborhood. This was a surprisingly moving moment for me, as I realized how much it meant no longer to be subject to the taxation without representation that is the fate of the suburban commuter to Philadelphia.
It was dinnertime. I worried how long I’d have to wait in line at my new polling place, given that I had to be back at work within the hour.
No worries. At dinnertime, I strolled right up to the table, flashed my ID as a first-time voter in the ward, and was out of there inside three minutes.
A distressing discovery
Inside the curtain, I had one bad moment which reminded me why some people who should know better decide they have an excuse for not voting.
I confess, having just moved, I didn’t know who my state representative was. Turns out it’s one of the clowns who allegedly was caught taking bribes in a state sting. Hers was the only name on the ballot, a classic example of an all-too-common lack of good choices.
Disheartening, yes, but not a good enough reason to decline to use 15 minutes of your day, twice a year, to exercise a right that millions of Americans have died to defend.
So there I stood, staring at that bribe-taker’s name. No prob, I thought. I’ll cast a write-in vote for Sister Mary Scullion. That saintly woman lives nearby.
But, being a newbie, I wasn’t sure how to cast a write-in on a Philly voting machine. A red light started flashing; it seemed I should push it. But life, and dozens of nuclear apocalypse movies, condition the average American to have a healthy fear of pushing any flashing red button.
I was afraid if I did, the curtain would snap open, a klaxon would sound, and a recording of Jon Stewart’s voice would say, “Hey, everybody, this yokel doesn’t know how to vote.”
So I left that slot on the ballot blank, pressed the Vote button, and left the booth feeling just a little less buoyant.
Lonely on the slope
But here’s the thing: Why would a crooked office holder have no competition?
Because the hacks who exert too much malignant control over this city’s public life count on your apathy. They count on you not paying attention, not rallying behind a reform candidate, not moving beyond cheap, shoddy cynicism.
And because, when you don’t vote, you discourage the good guys from taking the considerable risks of running. You convey to them that the challenge of fighting for something different, something better, will be futile, because not enough people will be charging up the hill beside them.
If you want better candidates, it’s on you, as a voter, to help nurture them. And some solid would-be candidates are always out there, thirsty for any sign of your support.
You see, it’s simply not true that all politicians are crooks to the core. Some are fine people struggling to do good inside a dysfunctional system, but getting too little support. Others have at least an inkling of wanting to do good, but are weaker, ready to tip whichever way, reform or business at usual, looks to be winning.
An election like last Tuesday’s, one where money and power show up, but everyone else stays home, is a flat-out betrayal of the good guys – and a bad message to those on the fence.
Wake the hell up, people. The bad guys are playing you. Don’t let them. Ruin their game. Pay attention. Show up. Vote.