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Cover Story

Ten reasons to vote this year ... or not

Photo: Action Sports Photography /, License: N/A

Action Sports Photography /

Photo: Photo by Jeffrey Wright, License: N/A

Photo by Jeffrey Wright

Texas Legislature Representative Joaquín Castro, currently running for U.S. Congress, rallies students at a recent "Debate Night" event at Northwest Vista Community College.

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And guess who tends to vote? "Generally what we find is that when you have lower voter participation it tends to be those who have a higher socioeconomic status who are over-represented in terms of voting, so you're not getting the full voice of the people," says Patricia Jaramillo, professor of political science at the UTSA College of Public Policy. Having "voice" in government may seem intangible on election day. Over the time horizon, though, lack of voice translates into tangible losses in share of public resources and economic benefits secured for constituents, and the short end of the stick during the construction of policies that favor one interest group at the expense of others. Some things in life really are zero sum.

The myriad factors trending voters toward a general decline in electoral participation in the U.S., and, in fact, across industrial countries worldwide, so far elude consensus among social scientists. It's socioeconomic; it's cultural; it's structural; it's maybe even genetic. Moreover, scant scholarship has been devoted to determining if or how high voter turnout really matters to either a society's ability to function, the life satisfaction of its inhabitants, or even the happiness of active voters.

Back in 1998, a team of researchers led by Daniel Gilbert of the Harvard University Department of Psychology and including Elizabeth Pinel and Stephen Blumberg of the UT Austin Department of Psychology polled voters during the 1990 Texas gubernatorial election (won by George W. Bush), asking how they would feel one month after the election if their candidate had lost. Respondents expected to feel miserable, but in a follow-up one month later the results, "apparently had no effect on the voters' general happiness."

So maybe it doesn't matter after all. Except we at the Current think it does. Just imagine what our country would look like if voter turnout dropped to zero: systemic collapse. So we're presenting a list of 10 reasons why you should get off your sofa and vote. Take your pick.

And in the interest of fairness, we're also enumerating a list of five viable reasons why you might abstain. If none of these five reasons apply to you, refer back to the first list. Then go get in line for your ballot.

1. You Can. Though some white, landowning, church-going males (not Catholics or Jews, of course) enjoyed some local suffrage in Colonial America, it wasn't until 1789 that the first U.S. presidential elections were held; until 1870 that non-whites gained the right to vote; until 1920 that women won suffrage; until the 1930s that most states granted poll access to "paupers"; until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act did away with the remaining Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised southern blacks; and until 1971 that adults under the age of 21 secured a constitutional guarantee of suffrage. And with voter suppression initiatives spreading like mala hierba, if you don't vote those hard-won rights may be rolled back.

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