Does non-voting public have impact on the way government operates?
By Sparta Live | June 11, 2018 8:43 am
Democratic Dialog – By Debra Wines
Since the 1932 presidential election, until 2016’s election, we have seen only four years when the number of voters who turned out to elect or re-elect a president of the United States of America hit over 60 percent. Those years were 1952, 1960, 1964, and 1968. In 1996, the percentage of voters hit an all-time low of only 49 percent. In the other 17 years, the average percentage of people who voted was 51.7 percent. I have to admit, that I was rather shocked by these numbers that I found on different websites, but Wikipedia had the most concise graph showing the numbers. I knew that voter turnout had been pretty dismal for several years. I didn’t realize that the only time when the percentage of voters hit above 65 percent was from 1840 through 1908, before radio, before TV, and well before the internet and social media. I was also rather surprised to see the numbers fall below 60 percent during World War II, when it seemed patriotism was all encompassing.
The percentage of voters was higher after WWII and during the Cold War when the threat of Communism was hanging over our heads. Yet, the highest turnout, in 1960, was only 62.8 percent. The lowest was in 1956, at 59.3 percent. After 1960, the highest percentage of voter turnout was in 2008, at 58.2 percent. We have never reached over 60 percent since 1968. I am sure there are dozens of factors that could explain the number of eligible voters who do not take the opportunity to vote in presidential elections. In my opinion, the lack of participation in our elections has had an impact on the way our federal, state, and local governments function.
Would our various levels of government have been more representative of the majority of Americans if more non-voters would have cast their votes? I don’t know the answer, but I can’t help wondering if their votes would have curtailed the influence and power of special interest groups, Super PACS, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations more power to influence our elections, and the type of candidates we have seen running for elections. Would their votes have stopped the movements that have contributed to some of those special interest groups setting up boilerplate policies and proposed legislation for states and local communities? Would their votes have allowed fundamental, evangelical Christian groups to push their religious agenda into politics, jeopardizing the intent of the First Amendment of our Constitution? Thomas Jefferson was concerned enough to write a letter, in January 1802, to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, which included this statement: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the Whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Roger Williams, who was the founder of the first Baptist church in America, had written in 1644: “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” The people who escaped Europe’s religious tyranny knew the dangers of giving any religion the power to control their government.
Has religion had an influence on our laws? Of course, it has. Most of our laws are based on the laws followed by many different religious groups, not just Christianity. A study of comparative religions will show that most of these groups have very similar beliefs. Yes, some are more extreme in their teachings when a religious “law” is broken. Some religious groups have been more progressive in their adaptation into modern society, while others are still trying to move out of the dark ages and others who feel the only right way is to practice their religion as it was when their “founder” envisioned it to be.
I believe our Founding Fathers were well aware that too much influence from extremist religious leaders was dangerous and therefore took steps in our Constitution to protect our form of government and our country from becoming controlled by any religious group. The late Senator Barry Goldwater also warned America that some evangelical religious leaders were moving too far into our political system, and we needed to prevent that from happening.
Perhaps Senator Goldwater’s real concern wasn’t just the Evangelical Christian movement, but he may have been concerned by the influence of religious leaders who had been “pushing” for civil rights and were involved with voter registration and voting rights of black citizens. I believe the difference between black church leaders, like the Rev. Martin Luther King, and evangelical leaders, like Billy Graham, was the simple fact that the black religious community were not necessarily promoting the election of specific politicians as much as they were promoting the acceptance and adherence to the civil rights laws. They were not pushing for religious ideology; they were pushing for the inclusion of blacks into American society so they would be treated as equal citizens with the same rights as any American citizen without being segregated because of the color of their skin.
For years we have walked a rather tight rope to avoid setting a precedence to creating laws or amendments to the Constitution due solely to any religion doctrine. That is not to say that some of our laws or Constitutional Amendments did not have any basis on a generic religious belief. The civil rights movement to allow all blacks equal protection under the law harkened back to the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. The movement was for equal rights and eliminating the “separate but equal” laws that were never on an equal basis with the quality of life and opportunities afforded to white Americans. The Roe vs. Wade issue was based on a woman’s right to decide medically and psychologically what was best for her. It allowed any woman the legal right to make that choice. It did not declare that every woman had to have an abortion; it gave her the legal right to make that choice. The same thing happened with the LBGTQ community finally being able to have the same legal and civil rights every straight American enjoyed.
The Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians felt that their way of life was being threatened by the abovementioned civil laws. Many of those leaders started a very well-thought-out campaign to do everything in their power to eliminate those laws and the protection given to the people involved, by declaring there was a “war on Christianity”. In the past several years, numerous Christian groups have become very politically astute. A group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) has a very effective message: they must “protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer.” This group claims to have more than 600 politicians as members in state legislatures.
Several Christian groups have also developed a legislative playbook, known as Project Blitz. They provide specific legislation for states to use to further Christian beliefs in the form of laws and policies at the state level. We have seen these policies put into action right here in Tennessee with the so-called “In God We Trust” bills that promote this phrase on public buildings, hung in public schools, and displayed on public vehicles including police cars. Most of the “hot button” issues being addressed in today’s politics are centered on this current climate of preserving religious freedom in America. I am sure I am not the only voter in America who has noticed over the past several years that political candidates have been listing, among their credentials and qualifications, their belief in Christianity. It almost seems as if their “Christianity” is far more important than their belief in laws, justice, and working for ALL Americans.
Looking at the voting statistics over the past several decades, I have to wonder if one of the reasons for low voter turnout is that more people have become disenfranchised from what they see happening in our democracy. Perhaps it also has to do with the disenchantment people have felt about our political leaders. Legislators should be more concerned with upholding our Constitution, our laws and policies and amending the Constitution, and changing laws and policies as our country grew to encompass the changes taking place in our society. I have yet to see any recent law that has prohibited Christians from practicing their religion in their churches. I am not aware of any laws or policies that have instituted a ban on anyone’s religious beliefs or declared a “war on Christianity.”
It is my opinion that perhaps more people would be enticed to get out and vote if they felt their local, state and federal governments were led by people who were seriously working for the betterment of the all Americans instead of waging a “war” on a freedom that is still guaranteed to them by our Constitution.