Ambassador Andrew Young, co-founder of Why Tuesday?, is a former U.S. Congressman and mayor of Atlanta. This op-ed originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Last week, American voters swept in a new crop of leaders, and once again brought change to Washington, DC. What has not changed, however, is the precariously low voter participation in our nation. This year barely more than 40 percent of eligible Americans voted, while more than a third of those who voted in 2008 stayed home. Our country should follow in the footsteps of the citizens of San Francisco, who voted to remove one of the biggest causes of low voter participation: voting on Tuesdays. The history of the civil rights movement deserves as much. Let me explain.
Forty-five years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson put on his coat, took his daughters by the hand, and went to the Capitol for a historic event that was his happiest day as an American — signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As he sat with fountain pen in hand, surrounded by an unusual group of allies, from Everett Dirksen to Martin Luther King, LBJ made a prediction: “And every family across this great entire searching land will live stronger in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the act that you have passed that I will sign today.”
The Voting Rights Act made a huge difference in peoples’ lives, confirming everyone’s right to vote — but that did not mean that those having the right would fulfill it by going to the voting booth. Sadly, “that short step into the voting booth and the greatest step for society” as Martin would herald, has gotten longer and longer, not shorter and shorter. Since 1968, the turnout of American voters in federal elections has gone down every single time save once. And now our nation ranks 139 out of 172 countries worldwide in voter turnout and dead last among the G8. The problem certainly isn’t the lack of resources; more money is spent in American elections by far than anywhere in the world. This year alone over $4 billion dollars will be spent hoping that 40,000,000 votes will be cast. That’s $100 per vote. How can we, the nation that created and nurtured modern democratic principles, expect other countries to see us as a model when we are such laggards in voter participation? (more…)