By Karen Mulvahill | Oct. 22, 2022
With an election in the offing, it’s difficult to decide what to write about. Do I write that it’s unfair that the 39 million citizens in California have the same number of senators as the 580,000 in Wyoming? Do I write about the need to eliminate the Electoral College, which has declared as winners candidates who lost the popular vote? Or that the Supreme Court’s protection of gerrymandering ensures continuing unfairness?
Do I share my concern about originalist judges who rely on a document that was written in the 1700s? Do I write about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its devastating impact on women’s lives? Do I tell you I fear that our constitutional democracy may not survive when candidates and officeholders are willing to lie about election results?
Do I deplore the resurgence of racism and anti-semitism and misogyny and homophobia? Do I write of my disappointment that so many of our citizens are willing to blindly follow cartoonish liars? Do I confess that I can hardly stand to read the news, that I am tired, that I am old enough to remember fighting the same battles 50 years ago?
When the human life span was shorter, say 40 years or so, you died before you had to relive all the same old heartaches and battles. You were six feet under before the next war, ecological disaster, or corrupt government came around. You missed the next wave of racism, book banning, homophobia. You died believing you’d made a difference.
I have lived long enough to hear heartbreaking echoes of the past, to see the retreat on many issues for which I’ve fought. And yet, I push past my disappointment and cynicism, still attend protests, and still believe it’s imperative to vote.
In the 10 national elections from 2002 to 2020, the percent of eligible voters who voted ranged from 40-60 percent. Four of those 10 elections were decided by less than half of the eligible voters. We must not take the right to vote for granted. Fewer than half the countries in the world have democratic forms of government.
In our own country, many people were disenfranchised in our history. At its founding, the United States granted the right to vote only to property owners, who were overwhelmingly white males. In 1868, formerly enslaved people were granted citizenship, but only the men were allowed to vote. In 1882, Congress declared those of Chinese ancestry ineligible for citizenship and consequently prohibited them from voting. In 1884, the Supreme Court determined that indigenous people were not citizens and therefore couldn’t vote. In 1920, women were declared eligible to vote, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the same right was accorded to all Asian-Americans.
Today, residents of U.S. colonies, such as Puerto Rico, are not allowed to vote, nor, in many states, are citizens with a felony conviction. And although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states from restricting people’s ability to vote, in 2021, 19 states enacted 34 laws restricting access to voting.
I can understand those who believe voting doesn’t matter because the candidate with the deepest pockets will win. The 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, eliminated campaign finance restrictions, thus allowing corporations and wealthy donors to contribute unlimited funds to their candidates and or issues. In 2020, roughly $14 billion—yes, that’s billion—was spent on campaigns, more than in the 2012 and 2016 elections combined.
However, a recent study showed that, while money is a factor, incumbency and partisanship seem to be bigger drivers (Charles Hua, Harvard Political Review, Oct. 16, 2022, “Campaign Finance: How Did Money Influence 2020 U.S. Senate Elections”). Incumbency has long been recognized as an advantage. But extreme partisanship that results in people voting for their party’s candidate no matter who it is means party affiliation can affect an outcome more than money.
I can certainly understand the desire to disconnect from politics, especially in the current political climate. The combined bombardment of advertising via television, radio, newspaper, emails, snail mail, and social media makes me want to pull in my head like a turtle. But as citizens, we have an obligation to educate ourselves, to wade through the noise and find candidates who reflect our values, whose messages include concrete plans to improve the country.
I can understand feeling frustrated when the same battles need to be fought over and over again—a notable example for me, a woman’s right to choose. But we cannot give in to despair. Like Sisyphus, we must keep pushing that boulder up the hill, no matter how many times it rolls down.
So go to the polls Nov. 8 or mail in your ballot. It matters. Election deniers want to cancel your vote. Deny them any part in our politics.
Karen Mulvahill is a writer living in northern Michigan.