An appeal to voters

Failing to vote reveals a basic lack of appreciation for the gift of democracy.

Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
There are 5.1 million Israelis living in Israel who are eligible to vote for the 19th Knesset on January 22.
Unfortunately, too many will not exercise this right – the very foundation of any democracy.
Israel’s voter turnout compared to, say, the US or Switzerland is high, but it is lower than many European states such as Italy, where voting was once compulsory; Belgium, where it still is; and Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.
In the past decade there has been a worrying decrease in our voter turnout, from around 80 percent in 1996 to just 65% in recent elections. Low turnout is often a result of disenchantment and indifference.
Sociologist Robert Putnam famously argued that the collapse in civil engagement as reflected in lower voting turnouts can be blamed on television. In the 1950s and 1960s television quickly became the main leisure activity in developed nations. In Israel multi-channel TV was introduced in the 1990s.
Television replaced social entertainment such as bridge clubs, church groups and bowling leagues. Putnam argued in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that as people retreated within their homes and general social participation declined, so too did voting.
The best remedy for the phenomenon described by Putnam is to get out and get more involved. The Jerusalem Post , AACI and the Jerusalem Great Synagogue have organized a series of debates geared specifically for the English-speaking community. Taking part in these debates – in Netanya, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Jerusalem – can help foster a stronger feeling of civic obligation and motivation to vote.
Another factor that contributes to low voter turnout is the feeling that one’s vote will not have a real impact.
Amnon Rubinstein and Adam Wolfson, in their book Absence of Government: How to Rectify the System, have warned that the large percentage of government decisions that are not implemented can foster indifference among citizens. If the government is not able to follow through with the decisions it makes, why bother to vote? A 2005 study by Doron Navot and Eli Reches found that in Israel 70% of government decisions – ranging from public housing to privatization of the sea ports, from reforms in the Israel Electric Corporation to the construction of a light rail in Tel Aviv – are left unimplemented.
Yet another factor contributing to low voter turnout is a low opinion of politicians. Just recently, Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), inadvertently gave public expression to this feeling when he reportedly complained about Israel’s “leadership crisis.”
According to Sof Hashavua and Jerusalem Post columnist Ben Caspit, in a closed meeting with friends Diskin voiced support for casting a blank vote in protest.
“A blank vote seems to me more and more of a good option that could also be a strong statement if many people did the same,” he was quoted as saying. “We must think of a way to make a deep and profound change in our country.”
With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition leading in all the polls, many on the Left or Center- Left have fallen into despair and given up on the possibility of political change, while many on the Right or Center-Right are complacent with the knowledge that the present government is likely to continue. As a result, there is a real danger that voter turnout will be even lower than in past years when the race was close and eligible voters felt their vote made a difference.
We must not let that happen.
Failing to vote reveals a basic lack of appreciation for the gift of democracy. The very foundation of the entire democratic process is the right to vote. Eligible voters have a civic obligation to educate themselves about the issues and to learn about the platforms of the parties running for the Knesset.
No democracy is perfect and there are good and bad politicians everywhere. But not bothering to vote or casting a blank vote only relinquishes control to others. On average, these unused votes have the potential of 15 Knesset seats. This potential should not be wasted due to indifference or pessimism.