Viewpoint

Memo to the young: Your uncast ballot is a vote against hope

Logan Snyder, 16, of Rock Hill showed his patriotic spirit at BB&T BallPark on July 3, 2015.
Logan Snyder, 16, of Rock Hill showed his patriotic spirit at BB&T BallPark on July 3, 2015. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

This is to all my awesome young adult friends, and it has nothing to do with my support for any particular candidate. I respect, love and believe in you, as I hope you already know. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to my thoughts.

You may want to read it all, or not.

I hear that some of you are refusing to vote on Election Day as a way of protesting, or “buying out” of, a political system that we all know is massively broken and corrupt. Believe me: If thoughtful people like you don’t vote, the people who will win are the ones you least want to govern.

We all know that not deciding is actually deciding.

Making a statement of protest by refusing to vote is a dangerous and self-defeating idea. When people buy out, it guarantees only that things will continue getting worse. In the real world, not participating isn’t very different from not caring. But I know you do care.

If several million people hadn’t made a habit of marching in the streets of Washington, D.C., it’s likely the Vietnam War would have dragged on for at least another decade, and the Vietnam memorial wall in D.C. would have been a lot bigger.

So one vote does matter, when combined purposefully with those of other like-minded people. You can be a very powerful group. But you’re powerless if you stay out of the decision, and the people who like the system the way it is will come out golden.

You may not be completely happy with, or feel enthusiasm for, any candidate. That’s beside the point. Nobody is without flaws, and you probably won’t agree completely with anyone about everything. There’s nothing wrong with picking the lesser of however-many evils. Less evil is a good thing.

You may believe there’s no way to win in a broken system. I’m skeptical that we could overhaul the system so that it works the way it was supposed to: of, by and for all the people. The basic outline of U.S. government was written into the Constitution, but the framers didn’t anticipate the way it would evolve over 230 years of the deadlocked battle between the best and the worst of human nature, fought inside the heads of the people in the seats of power.

Now it has grown into an awkward, ugly, rude but extremely powerful and dangerous beast, which thinks winning is the only thing of value to be gained in government.

One election may move the needle only a few points one way or another, in terms of political philosophy.

But sometimes an election can put us on a path that becomes a permanent direction, for better or worse. (For example, when did we all decide it was OK to scream insults at each other as a way of winning a political point?)

Until we’re all divided into armed camps shooting at each other in another civil war, the vote is the power you have to change what you want to change. When someone is elected who you think may listen to your ideas with an open mind (and it’s your own job to get them elected), you let them know what your ideas are and ask them to work on making them real.

That’s how lasting change happens.

Scott Verner is a former Observer editor.

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