The Declaration of Independence states that to secure certain unalienable rights, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….” Likewise, the Alabama Constitution notes “[t]hat all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority….” Sadly, the powers of modern government seem to be derived from the silence of the majority rather than their consent.
In 2008, about 131,144,000 citizens, or 43% of the country, voted in the presidential race to decide who would represent 304,093,966 Americans. President Barack Obama’s win by 52.9% of the vote essentially reflected the affirmative consent of less than a quarter of the United States’ population (22.8%).
In congressional elections, a shockingly small percentage of Americans are supporting candidates who, in turn, vote for legislation that ultimately becomes law. Because voter turnout is so low, the oft quoted “power of one” is quite legitimate.
In Alabama, the 2010 governor’s race saw voter turnout of only 57.5% of registered voters. In fact, only 18% of the population of Alabama voted for Governor Robert Bentley.
While elected officials must represent a wide variety of interests in their constituency, voter turnout information demonstrates that relatively few Americans actually bother to voice their approval or disapproval regarding the job performance of elected officials. This leads to the unsettling conclusion that many potential voters either do not know what is happening in their government, or they simply do not care.
While conservatives may blame Obama and liberals may blame Bush for the current state of political affairs in America, the non-voting American citizen may be the greatest contributor to the problem. The issue is especially pronounced in the elections closest to the people. Many Alabamians have no idea about the upcoming mayoral and council elections in 452 municipalities throughout Alabama set for Tuesday, August 28, 2012. By willfully forsaking the “political power . . . inherent in the people”, non-voting citizens have rendered themselves subject to the powers of a government in which their stake is greatly diminished.
As federal and state governments expand well beyond their legitimate functions and budgets, citizens have a more important role than ever. Most governments spend every dollar they take in taxes and seize all opportunities to exercise the power of the state. Citizens must fulfill their duty to vote and engage in all levels of politics, creating accountability for their elected officials, not every four years, but with every decision politicians make that impact the lives of the people they claim to represent.
Thomas Jefferson famously stated that if citizens “become inattentive to public affairs, . . . Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves.” With a series of elections in the near future, all citizens must decide whether they will pay attention and exercise their right to vote or be left as prey for a voracious pack of political wolves.