Americans in Israel should use all their abilities to vote in the upcoming US elections. Fortunately, due to the efforts of iVoteIsrael, qualifying to vote and casting that ballot no longer takes much effort. As the national director of a campaign registering US citizens for the upcoming elections, our staff is constantly surprised and impressed by the level of engagement, the countless volunteer hours and the consistent encouragement and support we receive from most Americans we encounter. However, at the same time, it is important to respond to the rare displays of cynicism about the process, as that attitude can be very damaging to our efforts and to a democratic society in general.
One such display was Zahava Englard’s recent Times of Israel blog post, “Walk Don’t Run to the Polling Booth.” The author’s argument essentially was that all elections are rigged so don’t bother voting. Her primary proof was from the infamous 2000 Presidential elections, which came down to the vote in the state of Florida, the single most scrutinized and observed election in world history. Yet even after all the hundreds of observers had left Florida, after the Supreme Court ruled, and even after a consortium of major newspapers reviewed all of the evidence (in 2001) all came to the same conclusion that Gov. Bush had indeed won, the author managed to assemble a whole bunch of conspiracy theories suggesting that as many as 49,000 votes were simply eliminated. Really? If it is just so simple to discard valid votes, why do candidates bother running campaigns at all? Having worked as a poll watcher in many races in different states, and having been part of a team investigating actual voter fraud, I am quite familiar with attempts to rig elections. However, what is much more common, and significantly more damaging than any perceived voter irregularities, is the pretentious attitude toward the process, which can encourage citizens to become scornful of a system designed to empower them.
The idea that voting itself is a waste of time is not merely juvenile — it’s actually dangerous. Planting the seeds of distrust (and worse) strips voters of the one tangible lever they have concerning their leaders. All the political activism the average citizen has, whether it is participating in rallies, petitions, phone calls and visits to politicians – even articles – gain their power from the assumption that citizens will have the ultimate say.
Have you ever expressed a political thought, banged your hands in frustration about why government made this decision, or why a politician made that comment? If you don’t at least vote, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Voting is at the very least a lot more productive than just kvetching to yourself (and a lot less damaging than kvetching to your spouse).
How difficult is it to vote? It does not cost anything. Does it take a lot of time? You can register to vote in less time than it will take you to read this article. Later, when you receive your ballot in the mail, you may spend as much as 30 seconds reading a few names, coloring in a few circles signing/dating the form, and sealing your envelopes. Seriously, are you so busy that you can’t take five minutes (every four years) to take advantage of this wonderful gift of voting presented by the US government?
You want to say your vote does not count, because all the candidates are the same? Really? Whether you agree with his decisions or not, very few people suggest that Bush and Gore would have reacted the same way, post 9-11. You think Carter and Reagan would have had the same approach to the Soviet Union? Decisions of US presidents have had significant impact on Israel – for better of worse — since its inception. While there will certainly be some similarities, any cursory assessment of the current presidential candidates will reveal stark fundamental differences. If you want to learn about them yourself, be sure to attend the upcoming debates between the Democrats and Republicans Abroad Israel, and you will see how different the candidates’ positions are from each other on issues ranging from Iran to the overall US economy.
Rav Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory explained that all American Jews should vote, at the very least to demonstrate “Hakarat HaTov” — basic courtesy for the good America has done to the Jews. Whether we are to thank America for the hospitality she provided for millions of Jews, or for her soldiers who have fought around the world to protect, among other things, the right to vote for millions, simple gratitude is reason enough to vote.
The reality is that anyone who claims that politicians do not listen to their constituents has clearly never worked in politics. They are constantly polling and testing the attitudes of their communities — or at least those that vote.
Let me leave you with this: If you were president, and you observed that a certain group of your constituents just stopped voting, do you think you would pay more attention to their needs, or less?