Voter apathy and the burden of democracy

Voting can feel like a burden at times, but in actuality, it is a responsibility.

VOTE AS IF your life depended upon it. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
VOTE AS IF your life depended upon it.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘I already voted,” my friend complained after I chastised him for missing Election Day so he could travel to Europe. I was flabbergasted. While we may be in uncharted territory with an unprecedented second election, I knew he could not honestly believe his April ballot would count in a repeat election.
As I suspected, he was not being literal but rather was blissfully unaware that the election was scheduled for September 17 when he made his travel plans – and I don’t think he’s the only one. To be clear, I am not suggesting that people do not know there is an election on Tuesday, but rather that it simply is not on people’s radar. In most people’s minds, the election was in April, and while they may vote again this month, this September election does not occupy the same hold on the national consciousness as its April predecessor did. That is to say: If the last election was characterized by a fired-up electorate, this one seems to be marked by an apathetic voting populace.
Whether or not that sort of tiredness translates into lower voter turnout remains to be seen. But it is hard to deny a certain voter fatigue hanging in the air, a collective kind of national yawn at the thought of going to the polls for a second time. And while I am deeply troubled by divisiveness, this kind of apathy may be even more concerning.
Divisiveness – the practice of villainizing the opposition and turning voters against one another to score political points – does no favor for the kind of national unity a country like Israel requires. However, it at least signals deep investment in the future of the country. That brand of fiery disagreement, while it may dehumanize people and split them apart, shows that they care. Apathy, on the other hand, is cancerous because it essentially means that people have no stake in the political direction of the country – and that is a worrisome trend.
Politics affects practically every aspect of our lives: from how much money is deducted from our paychecks to how our children are educated, and even whether or not we go to war. These realities are exacerbated in a country like ours. Unlike other Western democracies, the threat of war is palpable in Israel; our economic standing is vital to our continued survival; and whom we put in power matters on a greater level. This country’s continued success and stability are far from guaranteed, and national investment in our political future is essential if we are to continue to prosper.
It is true that this divestment from politics did not come out of nowhere. In fact, the last election was a stark example of why voters hate politics. Our leaders refused to compromise and form a government, and small-interest parties held disproportionate sway. In the end, a fair and hard-fought election, representing the will of the people, was simply undone and the Knesset was dissolved. I admit – that would leave anyone feeling like politics is a hopeless game in which the individual vote does not matter. But it does.
TOO MANY people, both Israelis and non-Israelis, have fought and died for our right to choose who governs us, to have a say in how we are taxed, educated and who represents us on the world stage. This is a remarkable privilege that few generations have had – and we cannot afford to squander it.
I concede that voting is not always a simple feat. Many of my friends complain that they are not informed enough to vote and have neither the will nor the time to educate themselves. This is hogwash. Time is relative and the obligation to vote supersedes even basic needs such as sleeping, showering and eating: all things we manage to find the time to accomplish amid our busy schedules. This country’s future deserves our time. It demands, at the very least, that one does the minimum research required before voting. Simply surrendering one’s vote, or voting the same way as one’s parents without question, is not only lazy but a betrayal of our democratic duty.
Voting can feel like a burden at times, but in actuality, it is a responsibility. It obligates us to be involved and take ownership of our country’s governance. By not voting we are acting cowardly, fleeing from that sacred charge.
There is no perfect candidate or party. That bears with it the need to compromise. While there may be no party or person that shares all of your views, there is definitely one that shares enough of them to deserve your vote. The government we elect on Tuesday, whether passively or actively, will be a reflection of who we are as a country. If we decide not to vote, then we deserve the type of failure we were handed in April.
Additionally, the choice to not vote fundamentally means that one is not invested in the future of this country. That is a horrible sentiment. A Jewish state, like democracy, is a gift for which Jews have yearned for millennia. Refusing to engage in the future of that state is a slap in the face to the hundreds of generations of Jews who would have done anything to live in this country.
Thus, young or old, native born or new immigrant, soldier or student, poor or rich, politically inclined or less so, we all have an obligation to make our voices heard. For this country – a miracle birthed in immeasurable suffering and animated by a 2,000-year-old dream – deserves our engagement. While our leadership may have failed us in April, it is time that we, the people, pick up the democratic mantle and vote. Our nation never lost hope in the promise of this country even in exile, and it would be a tragedy to lose hope now.
The writer is an author of the Eshel Pledge, and has written for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. He recently immigrated to Israel, lives in Modi’in and works in Jerusalem.