Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Why Do So Few of Us Vote?"

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Most people know me as Jessica. A few chosen former students have given me the moniker, "Lev." But not many know that I'm actually Norm. This post isn't going where you think it is going. Allow me to explain.
I am the "Norm" of my favorite restaurant. I walk in, I am greeted by name, typically asked how my day is going, and am often handed my usual. On an average visit I can expect to run into about three people I know. I would liken this situation to the one depicted on the long-running sitcom Cheers, set in a Boston bar by the same name, where one of the regular patrons, Norm, would be greeted much as I am at my usual hang out.

So what's the point?

Last week I arrived in the Los Angeles City Hall parking lot to visit a high-ranking, elected City official. When I told the parking attendant who I was there to see, she had absolutely no idea who I was talking about. Was there something wrong with this attendant? No, I don't think so. In fact, I think she likely represents many voters.

How many of us know who our elected officials are? I would venture a guess that the percentage of those of us saying "yes" decreases exponentially as we work our way down from President to Senator to Congressperson to Governor to Statewide elected officials to State Senator to State Assembly person to Board of Supervisors to Citywide elected officials to City Council member.

The question might be, why? Why do we know so little about those who represent us?

Well, one answer may be that we don't know exactly what they do for us. Which elected official am I to thank and/or blame for various programs and/or services? Another, albeit related answer, may be that we don't really interact with them. Although I routinely run into people at my neighborhood haunts, I rarely, if ever run into one of my elected officials.

The most interaction many have with their elected officials is likely through their mailboxes, as they take a quick gander at that official's visage on a slate mailer. Many local and state candidates do not run television or radio advertisements. Most districts are far too big to allow candidates to shake each constituents hand. What we're left with is a glance at a slate mailer, a skim of the candidate's statement in the voter guide, and perhaps a trip to a candidate's or third party's website.

So is it really any wonder many voters feel little connection to their elected officials and therefore may not turn out at the ballot box? Distant as we may feel from our officials, I would urge everyone to vote. If for no other reason than that if you do ever see them at your favorite local dive, you can tell them why you did or didn't vote for them.

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