One of the foundational myths of the United States is that to be a citizen is to be counted by the State. The truth is that the only formal way the population is counted is through the census that is conducted every 10 years. The census always represents in some part the biases expressed by the administration conducting it. For instance, the next census will be conducted early 2020 by the current presidential administration and so will likely reduce the number of questions concerning LGBTQ representaion, if not erasing them outright.
There are, however, a second, informal census that occurs every two years known as elections. The next set of elections are already happening. While the official voting day is November 6, many have already submitted early ballots. For those who are already politically active, the stakes are already set.
For Republicans, the midterm elections pose an opportunity to preserve the gains made in the last two years, and maintain control of all three branches of government. For Democrats, the midterms pose an opportunity to undo those gains, and ideally take back the House of Representatives, along with some Governors’ offices.
However, while it may not seem true, the majority of voters are not affiliated with a political party nor are the majority of people concerned with the same hot button issues that political parties focus on. From far away, politics and government seems like some gargantuan machine that the individual can do little to affect. This is because the local issues are often overshadowed by hot button national issues. While these laws and representatives do affect us, they do so indirectly. Our representatives ideally speak for the values that we hold and vote along those lines. However, these representatives can only account for the votes that they obtain.
A common argument that people use when not voting is that they are boycotting for moral reasons. The logic goes that if one does not vote, politicians will have to alter those views to attract those non-voters. However, if one simply stops voting, it stops being a boycott, and just becomes non-participation. A politician does not and cannot rely upon non-existent votes to win an election. You cannot account for data that you do not have.
When people forgo voting because “their voice isn’t being heard” it is important to first adjust the scale by which you judge being heard. On the Federal level, your voice may not be heard (certainly the Electoral College doesn’t care for the individual voice), but the Federal government must account for millions of voices, and account for how it is filtered through multiple channels.
These smaller channels are where change can happen, and there is no shame in choosing not to involve yourself in higher profile elections. The issue of voting is not an issue of amplitude. It is a binary issue of whether the microphone is turned on or off. When you forgo your right to vote, you choose to remain silent and let politicians walk past you and your voice. This is why Democracy dies in darkness.