It’s official. “Did Not Vote” won the election last week.
Sweeping to a landslide victory in 44 out of 50 states, the candidate “Did Not Vote” received a clear and overwhelming mandate from voters, who one week ago last Tuesday, chose to not show up and not to cast their ballots. Though “Did Not Vote” was narrowly defeated in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and the District of Columbia, in the rest of the United States they dominated the contests. It was no contest.
Attempts by this reporter to reach “Did Not Vote” for a response to this shocking victory went unanswered. I guess they were just busy doing something else.
If only this was a joke, a satirical broadside, or a really bad April Fool’s Day prank gone viral. But it isn’t. In what many rightly deemed one of the most important elections in recent United States history, a plurality of eligible voters just stayed home and stayed in and stayed away on Election Day. Here are some of the raw election numbers from November 8th, according the United States Election Project, a non-partisan group that collects and analyzes voter data.
As a percentage of all eligible American voters, Hillary Clinton received the votes of 26.27% (60,839,922) and Donald Trump, 26.02% (60,265,858); ‘Did Not Vote’s’ total was 43.1% (110,450,842). Those are votes which could have, but were not, cast. Neither major candidate won a majority of actual votes: Clinton, 47.8%; Trump, 47.3%. Even more sobering is this fact: if you add the folks who could have voted (but did not) to those who did vote, that’s about 231,500,000 voters. Which means that our new President was just swept into the highest and most important political office in our land and our world, with barely 26% of the eligible vote. Consider that number again: just one in four of us—neighbors, friends, family, fellow citizens---cast a ballot for the new commander in chief.
Now I wish I could report that those numbers are an anomaly, but they are not. We Americans regularly fall short, far short, in fulfilling our civic responsibility to vote in Presidential elections, any elections. To just show up. In 2016, 56.9% of us showed up to vote; in 2012, 58.6% and 2008, 61.6%. You have to go back pretty far in American history to find any numbers which reflect well on the participation rate of American voters. Try 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes versus Samuel Tilden), when 81.8% of eligible voters actually voted. It’s been mostly all downhill since then, hovering in the low to mid-fifties from 1972 to now.
There are so many story lines coming out of the election. The seismic social shock of an unexpected win and a heartbreaking loss. The election of one who has never served in pubic office or the military, for the very first time. The defeat of the first woman as a candidate for a major party. The changeover in power from one political party to the other, for the first time in eight years. The red hot anger so many feel; the sky high elation so many feel.
But what strikes me as the most important and under-reported story is how sad and frustrating it is that so, so darn many of my fellow Americans completely failed to fulfill that most basic task of citizenship: to vote. To let our voices be heard. To stand in line with the rich and the poor, the immigrant and the blue blood, the first time voter and the old pro voter.
To show up. To vote.
I know there are a small percentage of people who had legitimate excuses for not voting on the 8th: ill health or long work hours or pressing family responsibilities. I get that. But what about the rest of those stay at home folks? The ones who stayed on the couch. Who stayed away in the millions. Who when asked to step up just fell down.
My message to them is this: by not voting you may have determined the outcome of this election as much, maybe even more, than the people who did vote. If just a handful of cities in the Rust Belt had seen approximately 15,000 more folks vote this time around, the ones who showed up and voted four years ago: there would be a different President-elect preparing for January 20th.
That’s not sour grapes. That’s just a “come to Jesus” truth.
Life is always better when the many, and not just the few, do the hard and world-changing work of community. That’s true for an election, a church, a neighborhood, a family, a team, or a business; any group where two or more are gathered together.
Post election there is still a lot of work to do. Healing. Activism. Governing. Engaging in community at all levels. So my prayer and plea for all of us as Americans in the days ahead is simple.
Please, PLEASE! Show up! Now, perhaps more than ever, we need every one of us to do the work of democracy and just show up.