For decades we've been hearing the mantra, "Get out the vote", and for decades, we've been seeing the numbers showing a slow, steady decline in voter participation. In the last mid-term election we saw the lowest voter participation rate since World War II. That long, slow decline extends over 70 years and is more pronounced starting in the 70s. Voter participation trends right along with inequality over the last 40 years.
Add to that a variety of efforts to stifle or suppress voter participation and you have a recipe for banana-republic-strength inequality. For the proponents of voter suppression laws, I have to wonder, at what point will voter participation be low enough?
This relationship between voter participation and income inequality has been proven in at least one natural experiment in Argentina after compulsory voting was abolished. As voter turnout decreased over the years, income inequality increased.
In the United States (the other natural experiment), voting is voluntary, not mandatory. Given our experience, if we do not vote, we are essentially giving our money and our power to someone else. That someone else is usually someone with more money and power, someone with the willingness to make the time to vote. Then that someone else will write the laws, get the benefits, and send our kids to war.
If there was ever a reason to vote, inequality is the most important reason. Forget everything you know about civic duty and remember that politicians listen to the money first. They're going to blow $5 billion on a presidential election to get someone in the White House in 2016. Someone is expecting a return on their investment. We might as well have a say in this election, right?
No matter how much money they spend, the people in power have to justify the outcome with votes. The powerful cannot just manufacture consent, though they love to try. People are watching, and consent is hard to get if there is suspicion or even evidence of fraud at the polls.
Yes, it is true that many people think that their vote doesn't count, but it does. Every vote counts. Just ask B-1 Bob Dornan. Elected officials need to show that there are votes and that they are being counted honestly. They need to show that the winners were elected, fair and square. For if they do not, there will be unrest, protests and perhaps a change of government.
If we truly believe that inequality is the bane of democracy, then the antidote is the vote. When we are all heard, we can reverse the trend of inequality and bring about an economy that works for all of us.