Civic Duty and America

If you’re American and you haven’t voted yet today, please do so.

I voted this morning to get it done before work. In a city like DC where it’s very common to leave for work before 8 and not get home until 7, I expected the polls to be at least moderately busy. After all, in Virginia, polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm, which means the morning is the only time a lot of people even can vote.

I walked in at 7:15 with a woman and we were the only voters in the room. I remarked to the lady checking my info that I had imagined it would be a bit more crowded. She sighed and said “yeah, I know. Isn’t it sad? We’re not busy at all.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there are more active precincts than mine. But it seems to me that they’re in the minority throughout the country. Last time I bothered to look, I remember the voting rate for off-year elections being embarrassingly low.

Part of me wants to know the latest numbers, but the other part is terrified of knowing how bad it may be.

It’s great that people seem to have had an awakening of the civic life in the last few years, as we’ve seen in the Tea Party and Occupy [Wall Street] movements. Protests and marches are great, but votes are better.

Voting is the sine qua non of American civics. The Constitution does not talk about protests 1 or about writing your representative a form letter; it does talk about voting.

The way I see it, there are two real ways to engage in American politics: vote or run for office. 2 Everything else, while still important, are generally not participatory. Very seldom do letters from constituents, protests, or marches actually make a difference in policy.

And if you can vote and you’re out protesting and you don’t vote, you’re not participating in American politics; you’re subverting it.


  1. Yes, it talks about the freedom to assemble. Protests are a kind of assembly, but so are WordCamps or marketing conferences. The constitution protects both.
  2. Okay, you could also be appointed to a position. By an elected official.

Kansas boy transplanted to DC. English major transplanted to web development. Lover of things.