11/04/10: It’s really not a spectator sport

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

DID YOUR candidate win Tuesday?

Portsmouth elected a new mayor. He is going to represent every resident of that city. Norfolk elected a new council member. She is going to represent the residents of Ward 7, half of the city. Six members of Virginia Beach City Council were reelected and will represent all of that city’s residents.

Scott Rigell, Bobby Scott and Randy Forbes were winners Tuesday. Come January, they will represent the residents of their districts in Congress.

Funny thing about elections: Whether you voted for the winner or not, they have a duty to represent you. From that perspective, I guess each of our candidates won, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Speaking of which, did you vote Tuesday? If so, you were in the minority.

Nearly 60 percent of registered voters in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th congressional districts stayed at home. Portsmouth’s mayor was elected by 43.6 percent of the registered voters. In the most hotly contested council race in Virginia Beach, the winner was elected by 34.8 percent of the city’s registered voters. And that Norfolk ward race was decided by just 13.3 percent of registered voters.

Politics is not a spectator sport. Despite how nasty it can sometimes get, it is the system that we have. If negative politics turns you off, the answer is to not reward it by staying at home; rather, send the candidates a message by casting a vote against it. The power to effect change, including changing the tone of campaigns, rests with us.

Because I consider voting a responsibility, I exercise my right to do so at every opportunity. Besides, it isn’t the right to vote that keeps our government responsive to us, the governed. It’s those who do vote who accomplish this miracle of government.

Taking the time to learn about the candidates and casting a vote for the one who appears to share your values is a part of what makes our city, our commonwealth and our country great. That far too few chose to exercise their right to participate is really a shame.

It’s almost trite to say that people have died for the right to vote, but it is true. From our country’s founding, through the suffrage movement, to the civil rights era, blood has been shed over the ability to exercise this right, which is fundamental to the operation of our government.

Exit polls from Tuesday describe those who voted as being a far different group from those who cast votes in 2008: older, whiter, more conservative. So if you are a young minority progressive and didn’t vote, the question is why?

Decisions are made by those who show up. Tuesday, the minority of voters made the decisions for the majority. If you didn’t vote and are unhappy with the results, just look in the mirror for one of those to blame.

The silver lining in this is that in Virginia, there’s always another election just around the corner. Next November, the entire 140-member General Assembly will be up for re-election.

Will the majority of voters help decide? I certainly hope so.