The Power of Your Vote

The other day I brought my son to a lesson with his 28-year-old, very hip guitar teacher. The teacher knows that my job is related to advocacy and politics so after the lesson, he asked in all earnestness, "Is voting really worth it?" He said he wasn't if sure his vote would count or if the money poured into elections already determined the outcome. "Congress is so screwed up right now", he noted and "those with money are the only ones with power."

Too many eligible voters are disenfranchised. What they don't realize is that the only way to even the playing field with Koch Brothers type of money is voters. If everyone voted -- or even a super majority voted -- the power of corporate money would be reduced, as those elected would be held more directly accountable by a wide swath of their constituents.

So I told him that every vote matters, especially this year when many races will be nail-bitingly close. I said even though polluters and their allies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to win the White House in 2012, they lost because voters didn't agree with them. And I urged him to seize this opportunity to make his voice heard.

I think I persuaded him, but judging by the numbers, my son's guitar teacher is not alone in his ambivalence. America ranks 120th among nations for voter turnout. About 66.5 percent of eligible U.S. voters cast their ballots, compared to 88.5 percent in Guyana, 80.4 percent in Belize, and 70.8 percent in Uganda.

Midterm elections are notorious for attracting even fewer voters. Less than half of North Carolina's registered voters, for instance, are expected to participate in next week's election. People of color and young voters aren't likely to turn out in full force. Though nonwhite North Carolinians make up 26 percent of eligible voters, they accounted for only 22 percent of those who voted in 2010.

Researchers have also noticed a class divide in voting patterns. Roughly 98 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent of voters cast ballots in 2008. Yet among people with household incomes between $30,000 and $39,000, only about 62 percent did.

I find these numbers deeply troubling, because they reveal how many people are renouncing one of the most effective ways to shape the direction of our nation.

Every vote counts. And every vote is a potent way to tell lawmakers what you want. Politics may be messy, Washington may seem distance, and change may take a long time, but voting really can improve daily life. Researchers who studied election results for more than 30 years found that "where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower."

We can help decide the kind of country we live in. But we have to raise our voices to do it.

The Koch brothers have aired more than 43,900 TV ads from January 1-August 31st this year. The Koch network will reportedly spend at least $290 million in this midterm election backing candidates who deny climate change and make life easier for polluters. This isn't what the majority of voters want. A survey conducted for ABC/Washington Post found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce the pollution that causes it. The polluter friendly candidates ignore what the majority wants.

The Koch's tidal wave of money can corrupt our democracy, but we must not abet it with our silence. We must go the polls and elect leaders who will protect the air we breathe and build a more sustainable future for our children.

Don't miss this opportunity to be heard. Cast your vote and tell your friends and family to do the same. Because the most effective weapon against big money in politics is the ballot.