Alexandria in Action: Vote — it’s your responsibility

Alexandria in Action: Vote — it’s your responsibility

By John Porter

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government.” This quote from Thomas Jefferson rings as true today as at any time in history. And with our country basically divided almost equally on what the “will of the people” is, it is now as important as ever to make the predominant “will” known to those who govern our nation, state and city.

What is the best way to accomplish this awesome responsibility? With the upcoming election season, getting actively engaged now, learning as much as you can about the various candidates and exercising your right to vote certainly seems to be the most immediate, if not the best, response.

But how will many of us exercise said responsibility? With history as the indicator, at the local level we can expect somewhere around 30 to 35 percent of the city’s registered voters to come out on a local election day to cast their ballots for the candidates of their choice — those who will govern our wonderful city until the next election cycle.

During state election cycles and particularly during national elections, the percentages can be somewhat on the higher side. But, in addition to the more than 60 percent of those who don’t vote in local elections, how many more may be out there who have not registered or have failed to complete the process correctly and thus will also not be able to participate in this important principle of democracy?

Nationally, it is estimated that 33 percent of eligible voters are not registered to actually vote, according to the Statistics Brain Research Institute. In Virginia, the number is approximately 18 percent, placing the commonwealth as eighth nationally in voter registration. While I’m much too old to remember the registration process when I was first eligible to vote, I understand the process is, in many ways, much simpler now and even can be done online.

According to Anna Leider, Alexandria’s general registrar, “It’s very easy to register to vote in Virginia. Simply go online to the state’s secure website, … or submit a paper registration application, which can be obtained from or by calling the Alexandria Voter Registration Office at 703-746-4050.” But do so soon, as October 13 is the registration deadline for the upcoming November 3 election. Leider notes that the state website also may be used to update your registration information, confirm your polling place and learn who and what will be on the ballot this fall, including contact information for all the candidates who will appear on the ballot.

But why do some of those who are registered choose not to vote? In a recent study, The Society Pages, an open-access social science project at the University of Minnesota, indicates that the single most common reason for not voting was that the person was too busy or their schedule conflicted with available voting hours (18 percent) followed by illness or disability (15 percent). Interestingly, about 13 percent of those not voting indicated a lack of interest in the election, while another 13 percent didn’t like the candidates or the issues. Voting patterns also showed marked differences when broken down socioeconomically, particularly in reference to outside factors causing individuals to not vote — transportation, weather, etc.

So, what to do? While those we’ve elected battle over the broader election issues — voter eligibility, voter identification, requirements for voting, timing of elections, and the like — we can resort to the old adage that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain. But better yet, we can be a bit more proactive and ensure first that we do our duty by learning as much as we can about the candidates and the issues and vote. Without being too self-righteous, we can also encourage others, particularly family and close friends, to do the same. The crucial point is that the time to get engaged, to learn more, to meet the candidates and discuss the issues is now. November will be here before we know it — don’t waste a moment.

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.