"Truth is, I've been voting for 42 years and nothing much changes."
Following last week's column about the shockingly low voter turnout in the May 5 primary, I received a number of responses. Most were from people who actually voted. Their reasons were predictable. A sense of civic pride ("I chose to vote because voting is one of the greatest privileges in this great country. To not vote is to silence your own voice in how government works; and how history plays out."), wanting to right the wrongs of the world ("My experience in Vietnam ... impressed upon me the importance of the participation of the people in our government. Since 1968, I have never missed voting in an election."), etc.
But the words quoted above, from an anonymous Michigan City resident, speaks volumes. I think people feel out of touch with those who represent them in government. The politicians who wind up in office live lives that most of us don't really understand.
Despite the best efforts of our our high school teachers who sought to give a base understanding, most of us don't really understand how government works. Even if one made the effort, and most don't, to attend meetings and learn about the process, it can still be confusing. There's a never-ending barrage of funds and ordinances and resolutions. There are first readings, second readings and third readings, unless they randomly decide to do second- and third-reading simultaneously.
Because of all these layers, it seems to take forever to get anything done. Things move in and out of committees. The minutiae of proposed law is discussed until nobody can even seem to remember what we were all talking about in the first place.
Factor in a collective attention span that has to be shorter than at any point in history and you get what we have here: fierce apathy. For those who don't vote, it's not so much a casual disregard for what's happening around them. It's more of a forceful disdain for the process and, in some cases, the people in it.
"The last thing I want to do in life is be a politician," an anonymous reader said.
Everyone has a role in this, including us here at The N-D. Of course, I can't say for sure that anything we did or did not do in the weeks leading up to the election factors in to 87 percent of you deciding to not hit the polls, but I concede it's a possibility. One reader pointed out that all media, including us, should "commit to improving coverage". As someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about the role the newspaper does play and should play in the community, that point is well taken.
I think the point here is that no one is directly at fault. This thing is broken, and fixing it takes effort on everyone's part. The voter — and that means everyone in the community who is of age — needs to be more engaged in the process. The candidates and elected officials need to be better at connecting with voters and getting things done that matter to them. The media needs to be better at getting the information out there in an appealing manner.
Going to cast a vote should feel as though you're doing something very important, not going through the motions with an expectation that your ballot won't or can't have an impact.
Contact Managing Editor Adam Parkhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-219-214-4170.