FIRST-PERSON: America's sad history of voter apathy

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- The Tuesday after the first Monday in November should be declared Apathy Day in the United States. It is on this day that so many Americans do so little about something so significant to their lives and futures.

The date is, of course, Election Day in America. And it seems, regardless of the nature of the election, almost half of the voting-age population reveals its apathy by not participating.

When the election involves selecting a president, voter turnout is normally around 50 percent. In the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, voter participation was 63 percent. Not since 1968 has voter turnout topped 60 percent.

The highest voter participation since 1968 was 57 percent and occurred in 2008 when Barrack Obama and John McCain vied for the White House. During off years, when a president is not being elected, voter participation rarely reaches 40 percent. The average since 1960 has been 39 percent.

The main excuses people repeatedly give for not voting vary: not having enough time, not liking any of the candidates, and a belief that an individual vote makes little or no difference.

But I believe strongly that people should care who occupies the White House. While almost half of voting-eligible Americans choose not to exercise their right to cast a ballot, their lack of involvement does not shield them from the impact the president will have on their lives.

The president enacts policies that have an impact on much of American life. The two men currently running for president -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- have divergent ideas about policy as it applies domestically, socially, fiscally as well when it comes to foreign affairs, energy and the military.

Whoever is elected president Tuesday will have a significant impact on the lives of every American -- not only in the short-term, but in the long-term, too.

The president is given the task -- the power -- of nominating individuals to the Supreme Court, and these appointments are for life. Some believe the next president may have the task of replacing up to three Supreme Court Justices. If this does happen, the balance of the court could be set for decades to come.

If you do not think the Supreme Court has an effect on day-to-day life in the United States, both positively and negatively, consider just a few of the court's more notable decisions.

In 1954, the court decided unanimously in Brown v. The Board of Education that segregation in public education was unconstitutional. This landmark decision planted the seed of equality from which civil rights for minorities -- in particular African Americans -- grew.

Griswold v. Connecticut was a 1965 decision decided by a vote of 7-2 in which the Court found a Connecticut law banning the use or sale of contraceptives unconstitutional. In so doing, the justices discovered a new right in the Constitution -- the right to privacy.

Justice William O. Douglas wrote the majority opinion and conceded that though the word "privacy" appears nowhere in the Constitution, it is nevertheless implied. "The Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance," Douglas wrote. "Penumbra," according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is defined as "the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object."

The Supreme Court seemed to say in Griswold that the right to privacy is an ethereal concept stealthily embedded in the Constitution by the founders in such fashion that it could only be discerned and discovered by enlightened minds.

The "penumbra" of privacy that emanates from the Bill of Rights has proved to be the basis for other decisions like the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal throughout the United States and the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that struck down sodomy laws in America.

Each of the cases cited above has helped to lay a moral framework leading to greater acceptance. In the case of Brown, it has led positively to the civil rights of all minorities. In the case of Griswold, it has led to the cheapening of life and the acceptance of aberrant behavior.

Those who are so apathetic they choose not to vote fail to understand that their non-participation in an election will not exempt them from the policies and decisions of politicians -- especially that of the president.

"Politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians," said Charles de Gaulle. The French statesman's observation was spot on and his words should be pondered by those who would flaunt their apathy on Election Day.


Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, www.baptistmessage.com , newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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