It seems more perfunctory than proper these days to encourage people to vote.
Voting is supposed to fulfill the American promise that all citizens have an equal voice in how they are governed, not to mention the pride you'll feel having been personally involved when your candidate resigns in disgrace over some public scandal.
Today, some of us will vote and a significant number of eligible Americans won't. In 1960, voter turnout was 63 percent. It's never been higher. It's usually between 50 and 55 percent, and barely more than a third in non-presidential years. Even in 2008, an historical election, of 231 million Americans of voting age, roughly 100 million stayed home. In 2010, the year of the so-called grass roots tea party, 146 million people didn't vote.
You could almost argue that those who vote are America's most powerful minority.
It's often said that those who don't vote have no right to complain, as if those who vote are more virtuous, more entitled to democracy's spoils. Or that too many voters are just plain dumb, willing to vote for you if you promised to replace the presidential limo with a monster truck.
How many, however, are just plain fed up, frustrated by an increasingly hijacked process?
Consistently, Census Bureau data finds that fully one-fifth of voters stay home because they feel their vote won't make a difference, especially as the influence of money has grown exponentially.
In 1960, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon personally campaigned in 49 and 50 states, respectively. In that year, more than 30 states were hotly contested, including California, Illinois, New York and Texas.
Despite a similarly tight and tense race, this year's candidates have only visited 10 states since the political conventions, 11 if you count Mitt Romney's last-minute Hail Mary visit to Pennsylvania over the weekend.
If you could draw a United States map where state size was dictated by where the most presidential campaign ad dollars were spent, you'd only be able to see swing states. Reflecting more than an allocation of campaign dollars, that map would also reflect a nation so polarized that most states are a lock for one candidate or the other, so they expend few resources on them.
Voters respond in kind. In 2008, national turnout was 61 percent, but in the 15 states that received the bulk of the candidates' attention, it was 67 percent.
Perhaps swing state voters are America's most powerful minority.
However, one might argue, state propositions surely offer something on the ballot about which Californians are qualified and passionate enough to cast a vote.
Yet even that process is farcical, as highlighted by the legal battle over funding sources of an Arizona group's attempts to sway the electorate. We now know the source of the $11 million in anonymous money is more anonymous groups two other nonprofits whose donors are also anonymous. It'll be long after today's vote before that ball of yarn gets unraveled, if it ever does, which was probably the group's aim all along.
As long as donor names are hidden we have no idea of the effect on our elections and the influence on elected officials exacted by foreign countries and corporations, or by American billionaires, an even smaller and more powerful minority in the United States. All votes should be equal, but if mine includes a $100,000 check, they're not.
Even the language of the propositions defies transparency. One ad claims proposition so-and-so "isn't what it seems." What proposition is?
Though I plan to vote, for those of you who feel like voting is more like a gantlet, or an exercise in futility, I get it. The choices, be they candidates or initiatives, should refine and enlarge the public's views. Too often it's the views of moneyed interests that do the refining and the enlarging.
It's too bad those able to fix this elected representatives won't, as they too often benefit from it.
I've often said there are two reasons not to vote: you're in a coma, or you're dead, though Chicago has been known to remedy that problem.
But not voting is also a choice, a choice as defensible as voting. What if that choice could be heard? In the spirit of that old slogan, "What if they gave a war and nobody came," what if our election choices included the Republican, the Democrat, and a choice that read, "Neither."
Imagine waking up Wednesday morning as the newscaster announces, "Here are the results of last night's election: Neither one." Or "Neither won."
I'll bet more people would show up to vote if the choices included "neither," "thoroughly disgusted" or "try again."
That way, maybe we'd get lucky enough to keep a few of the bums out before they could even get in.