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By Now, We Should Know That Elections Have Consequences, And So Does Not Voting

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Voting is a precious right and a basic civil responsibility — so why do so many people not do it?
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“Elections have consequences.” Believe it or not, those three words, which comprise the catchphrase of recent political times, were first uttered in January 2009. For some time, I thought that it to be an axiom, passed down through the decades from seasoned politicos. But, in fact, it was said by former president Barack Obama. He was just three days into his first presidential term, facing off against then-House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor. You may recall that right after the Obama victory, top Republicans declared they would block the President’s efforts to govern. Five years later, Cantor, a star of the party, felt the sting of Obama’s words firsthand when Virginia voters rejected him, effectively ending his political career. Elections have consequences.

While I find this recent history striking, I actually don’t so much care about the origin of the expression. I’m more interested in the fact that many, many people now understand — on a gut level — what it really means when elections have consequences. And it only took one of the biggest political shakeups in American history to make the point.

I’m still thinking about the millions of people who sat home during the 2016 presidential election, and more recently, and more locally, the huge numbers who skipped voting in the September primaries and likely won’t vote tomorrow. Secretary of State William Galvin predicted a measly 15 percent of registered voters in Boston would go to the polls. He was wrong — the percentage was even lower, 14 percent. Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abrahams put it best when she said of the tiny turnout, “I’ve been to Tupperware parties more happening than that.”

I expected more, too. Especially since many people are now enthusiastically turning out for rallies and protests, and attending candidate forums. These are people who were turned off in past years and no amount of prodding would get them to show up. But, I’ve seen a major turnaround by people who barely knew the names of their representatives in Congress or at home. They are active, present and informed. True, some are motivated by shock and rage at President Trump’s policies and executive orders. But a fair number are recognizing that it doesn’t pay to be asleep at the wheel when votes are being cast in their name.

So, I’m puzzled about why re-energized citizens are not showing up at the polls in significant numbers to exercise their most basic civic responsibility. WGBH News has reported on some of the hot button issues facing communities around the state — places where specific concerns like ethical governance and more general issues like housing and public education will directly impact all of us — whether or not we vote. “Elections have consequences,” President Obama made clear, but it’s another former president’s words that resonate for me on this election day eve. President John F Kennedy said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” See you at the voting booth tomorrow.

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