For people who work in and around politics, a general election is like jamming four World Series into thirteen hours but only finding out whether you scored any runs after the game is over. It’s a long day at the end of a long campaign and can turn into a long night if things aren’t going your way. Losing brings a lot of regret and “what ifs” but nothing is more infuriating than hearing someone complain about government and then admitting that they do not vote.
Voting is not hard. Polls open early (most at 7am) and all close at 8pm. Chances are good that your polling place is in your neighborhood or very close by. If you can’t get to the polls during that time, no excuse absentee ballots can be cast ahead of time. If you have a last minute change of plans that takes you out of town, go to the Town Clerk and you can cast an emergency absentee ballot. Our local election officials are accommodating.
I certainly understand that many people are not interested in politics and are truly turned off by the process, but we all have a stake in how we are governed. From the policies that guide our school systems to the money we ask the state to invest on our behalf, elections matter and have an impact on all our lives. We are lucky to live in a place where we can participate in the process. For anyone who says “my vote doesn’t matter,” there are plenty of races in recent Rhode Island elections that were decided by the tiniest of margins. In fact, one state representative race in 2012 was decided by just one vote. Ask Carlos Tobon if one vote matters — he knows that it does.
This year turnout will be especially important. While turnout surges when the office of president is on the ballot, the midterm elections for Rhode Island’s general officers frequently see a precipitous drop in turnout. In 2010 — when Governor Chafee was elected — less than 47% of eligible Rhode Islanders chose to vote. Since he won with about 36% of the vote, that low turnout gave him a victory with the votes from only 17% of Rhode Island’s eligible voters. With such low numbers from the voters and no party to draw support from, it’s not a surprise that he was a lame duck from day one. Our state cannot afford another four years of a governor without the public support to move our state forward. We have been the butt of jokes for far too long and have to find a way to be competitive and prosperous again.
So consider this column another annoying robocall. I am not plugging a candidate or an issue - I am simply asking you to take a few minutes and participate. It's time to get off the bench and vote.