Uncounted Nation -- 100 Million 'Missing' Votes

Betsy Argueta holds her daughter Isabella, 2, as she votes in the U.S. presidential election at the National Guard Armory in
Betsy Argueta holds her daughter Isabella, 2, as she votes in the U.S. presidential election at the National Guard Armory in Smithfield, North Carolina, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The unspoken margin of error in this election is an astonishing minus-100 million Americans.

That's the number of our citizens who were eligible to vote but didn't, either because they weren't registered, or didn't/don't vote. As a group, that's larger than the populations of more than 180 countries. This uncounted nation of our citizens have largely felt their voices devalued in a ceaseless cycle of disenfranchisement and disengagement.

Over the last six weeks, I traveled by Greyhound through ten swing states as part of a voter registration and get-out-the-vote tour of under-reflected communities -- from a Latino church in Phoenix, to a point of water distribution in Flint, Michigan, to shelters in Cleveland, to Miami on election day, through tiny towns and on the Greyhound itself (part of a 120,000-Greyhound-mile project, aiming to shed light on those struggling to get by).

What I found was that, after a campaign season defined by appeals to our lowest common dividers, perhaps the biggest electoral divide of all is the one that separates those in the conversation and those who are not. It's a form of political segregation (based mostly on class, as voter participation is directly proportional to income). Don't vote, don't count. Don't count, why listen?

For every citizen who said "Ya voté" with surety and an "I voted" sticker on was a person completely turned off by a fusilade of negativity. For every parishioner at the oldest African-American church in Milwaukee who said, "I'm on it" was a security officer on a double shift for whom politics seemed a world away, a spectator sport of, by, and for others.

The reflection gap -- ravine -- in our politics is not limited to the results on election day. It is found in every single TV story, article or blog post that makes mention of polls, as polling is limited to likely voters. (The only recent survey of those who don't vote, by Pew in 2012, showed them more than twice as likely to vote for Obama than Romney.)

Any search for the roots of our political disparity doesn't have to go further than the US History page on Wikipedia. We were founded as a democracy entirely in favor of the haves and really haves over the have-far-lesses -- from the vote being the sole right of property owners, and then only white men, through poll taxes that ended 52 years ago, to new restrictive voter ID laws (when 1-in-4 African-Americans lack government-issued ID).

What's desperately needed to fix this distorted mirror of our elections is a civic "army," a loosely affiliated volunteer Civic Corps -- both partisan and non-partisan -- to engage those on every corner, down every back road, in a dialogue that will repair the breach, and help reflect the silent 100 million who went unheard in this pivotal election.

Their voices and their votes amount to the growth potential of our people, which the survival of our democracy demands.