^ huge lines of voters waiting to cast a ballot in last year’s election : we have the power. And we know it. Whether we use it or not. Often we do not use it. But the important thing is that we have it. Even we who haven’t registered know we always can, know that the power is ours
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Almost everyone except the nationalists who love Mr. Trump cherishes the right to vote. Those of us who think of citizenship consider voting rights the bedrock civil right. We are not wrong. Our ancestors fought a bloody civil war at least in part to se cure voting rights for African Americans and immigrants. Several important expansions of voting rights ensued; today our nation practices universal suffrage, at least in principle. If you’re a citizen, and eighteen years of age, you have the right to vote.
Yet the path from the right to vote to actually voting is not universally taken. About half of vote-eligible citizens never register; and in local, Boston elections, only about 37.5 percent — and not always that high a percentage –of those who do register actually cast a ballot. Boston’s registration rate is high: about 80 percent of eligibles register; still, these numbers tell us that about 68 percent — more than two of every three — of vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections. Why not ?
Because more than two of every three vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections, those who do acquire about three times the voting power that they would have in a universal suffrage participation. Because elections are won by a majority, if only 32 percent of eligible vote, barely 1/6 of all vote eligible citizens choose who wins. This isn’t much different from the situation that prevailed in the 1780s and 1850s, long before /universal voting eligibility was enacted, or even thought of . Boston in 1822, the year it, became a city, had about 10,000 voters; by 1850, about 30,000; Civil War Boston counted about 60,000 voters. Today, 150 years later, 60,000 votes almost wins a Mayor election (65,000 is the actual).
Does it matter that most of us who could vote do not ? Evidently it doesn’t. Very few people except pundits complain that Boston elections are decided by 16 to 19 percent of us. Would elections look all that different if 50 percent of us voted ? Maybe not. But one thing seems certain : if 50 percent voted — about 230,000 voters — there’d be far more candidates. There’d be a culture of participation. There’d be vigorous primaries and heated second rounds. Today, at least half the municipal election contests have no primary. If there’s no primary, there isn’t much to excite voters.
But perhaps political excitement, except for President, is a rare thing and one that doesn’t feel necessary. Life in Boston has its pressures, and its drama, but those in charge do not slack, and every citizen, voter or not, makes her voice heard in a dozen venues including social media and the streets. If a citizen can make her voice thus heard, as so many are now effective at doing, maybe voting isn’t so crucial. Perhaps democracy is an arsenal with many different weapons in it.
A weapon need not be used to be effective. If the opposition knows it’s there — and you know it’s there — that’s often effect enough. Having the right to vote is power enough. And we all know that we all have that. We have the power.
Those who want to restrict the right to vote, or impede it, would not bother if they did not understand, as well as we do, how powerful the right to vote is, used or left unused. We cannot let them restrict us or impede us, and we won’t, no matter if we vote this time, or next time, or hardly ever, and even if we have yet to register.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere