Mark Hammer

“Voting” means something diferent in different places. Obviously, voting in places where there is essentially one party/candidate to “choose” is barely voting at all. Voting in places, or at times, where one had been previously prohibitted from voting, is a gesture of empowerment, and a thrill for those who do it. In still other places, voting feels futile. “Choosing” the best of a bad lot starts to feel little different than “choosing” under one-party rule.

At this time in history, I think it also bears noting that while we have traditionally equated voting with participation in civic life, voting has begun to slide as the torchbearer of democracy. If I vote every 2 or 4 years for some level of government, and simply ignore that part of civic life until the next election rolls around, am I engaged in civic life? Alternatively, if I decline to vote, but show up at city council and school board meetings, follow the relevant news closely, action for things through petitions or committee work or some other means, perhaps through electronic communities, am I uninvolved in civic life?

For me, voting is certainly an expression of civic life, but it is not isomorphic with it. These days, in western industrialized nations, voting is only a small fraction of participation in civic life. Ultimately, the responsibility of any citizen is to civic life. Voting is a valuable part of that, but its not everything.