Low Voter Turnout – Who’s to Blame?

Riding in a taxi cab in Jerusalem late yesterday evening (on my way to a polling station), I asked the driver whether he had any update on the outcome of the Jerusalem mayoral election.

He lowered the volume on the radio. “I don’t know,” he said, glancing at me with his hardened eyes through the rearview mirror. “And I don’t care. I don’t worry about voting. I worry about surviving.”

When I didn’t immediately react, he continued. “I was born in Israel and served a full term in the army. Yet I have never received a single thing from this government. I worry about where I am going to sleep at night, not about who to vote for.”

The headlines yesterday and today have not ceased to belabor the unfortunate apathy of Israeli voters in this year’s municipal elections. All the live news blogs yesterday were crammed with quotes from politicians encouraging citizens to vote, to make a difference in the easiest way possible – by democratically choosing their leaders.

I have always believed that not doing something, or not making a decision, is a decision in itself.

In this regard, voting is no different. Therefore, I can’t say I fully agree with the tone of the news agencies, which have largely placed the weight of the low voter turnout in this year’s elections onto the voters’ shoulders.

As I stared at my taxi driver’s obdurate sixty-year old face last night, I tried to imagine this man in his youth, time and again raising his hopes (in vain) that this elected official or another would effect the change promised in his or her election campaign.

I imagined him continuously wagging his head as one tale of political corruption after another formed the lead story in the evening news.

I imagined the ice in his eyes as he drove around Jerusalem over the last couple of weeks, flanked on all sides by posters cynically positing that the dying wish of the great Jewish halachist of this generation was none other than that Jerusalemites should vote an aspiring politician from Givatayim for Jerusalem mayor.

Whether we like to tell ourselves this or not, a large portion of the politicians in this day and age enter politics for selfish reasons. If it’s not for ultimate riches, then it’s for power, prestige, honor or self-fulfillment. Those who truly run for the benefit of the people–and I’m sure there are many–have to prove themselves to separate from the crowd.

I am not about to let my taxi driver off the hook: Hope, including hope in the democratic process, isn’t something automatic; it must be cultivated. Bitterness is the easy way out.

But for all those Israeli politicians who woke up this morning to begin a fresh term in office, this would be my advice: Over the coming years, try to prove to as much of your electorate as possible that you have succeeded in improving their lives. Then, perhaps, we will meet with headlines lauding the stunning voter turnout in the next election.

About the Author
Daniel Light is an aspiring novelist, an Orthodox rabbi and an attorney who tries to help get the invaluable inventions of one of Israel's premier scientific institutions to market.