There is an old political joke that reflects Americans’ attitude toward politics and politicians: “How can you tell the difference between a horse race and a political race? In a horse race, the entire horse runs.” Stated with a bit more refinement, Americans tend to like their individual members of Congress but disdain the Congress as a whole (one poll put Congress’s approval rating at 14 percent).
So in this election year, you might expect voter apathy to be at an all-time high. Robert Elhert recently wrote about the very low turnout in the last Idaho primary and general elections. Why should the upcoming May primary or the November general election be any different?
Well, if you have paid the slightest attention, you know that this is one of the most interesting elections in memory. An anti-establishment Republican latecomer and a Senate outcast lead the GOP field while an Independent is seriously challenging the establishment Democrat candidate.
Maybe all the negative campaigning has turned you off. But think back to, or Google, Thomas Nast and the political cartoons of the late 1880s. Now that was negative, so we are not really in new territory here.
Perhaps you don’t have a candidate to vote for, and once in the voting booth, your only option is to cast your vote for a candidate you can’t stomach. But someone is going to get the job, folks. Whether it is president, justice of the Idaho Supreme Court or your local Idaho House member, your only outlet for expression is your vote.
Some repeat the predictable refrain that one vote can’t make any difference. Statistically, that is true. Just like it is statistically true that one drop of water can’t cause a flood. And yet we have floods. If your minuscule effect on the outcome is keeping you at home on Election Day, consider the passion with which new voters, whether new American citizens or newly enfranchised Iraqis vote, having never possessed that cherished right before. That thought alone is enough to get me off the couch and into the voting booth.
Or consider the effect that elected officials have on your daily life. Nearly every edition of the Statesman contains a story about the effect of the Legislature’s decisions on daily life or a state Supreme Court decision affecting fundamental rights of speech, religion, assembly, and on and on. Unless you are an anarchist, you will have to live with those decisions. Even if you are an anarchist, chances are that civilized society is going to impinge on your worldview. In races where only one party fields multiple candidates, the primary election will determine the outcome of the general election. Do you really want 16 percent of the community deciding who that will be?
As Woody Allen famously said, 80 percent of success is just showing up. So when the polls open, show up. If only you and a few others show up to vote, then your single vote could have a significant impact on the outcome. OK, maybe not significant, but it will have an impact. It’s your chance to be a player and not a benchwarmer in the most interesting election in years.
William G. Myers III is a Boise attorney and member of the Statesman Editorial Board.