Voting: why and why not?

Before I continue my analysis of the U.S. Constitution, I want to explore the topic of voting for a post or two. I’m interested in finding out what voting means to people, why people choose to vote or not, and what the driving issues are behind those decisions.

What I understand from my research so far is that while the voting-age population in the United States has increased since 1930, the percentage of those people who have actually registered and participated have decreased markedly since around 1900. I’ve got data and fancy charts I’ll post in a couple of days.

What I don’t understand is why there’s this drop-off in participation. We’ve gone from nearly 95% participation of registered voters circa 1850 to only 69% of registrants voting for the president in 2004 — meaning George W. Bush won with 39% of registered voters’ approval. The participation is even less during the congressional election cycles.

This is where you come in. Do you vote? If so, why. If not, why not? What are the issues that drive you to vote? Do you feel it makes a difference? If you feel it doesn’t, what about voting makes you feel that way?

I’m trying to understand what people feel about this topic in order to wrestle my observations and see what I can make of them.

Go ahead and post a comment with your response, and send this on to someone — or many someones — you know. Help me try and understand these trends.

I will be posting my findings, calculations, charts, graphs, and analysis on this issue over the next couple of weeks amongst my thoughts on the constitution and the process in general.

Thoughts on last night’s post

As I begin my exploration of the Constitution in more depth, I’m struck by the concept of “being a strict constitutionalist”. Two days ago, I would have said that means limited government, Libertarian ideals, and a move towards local control and self-sufficiency.

The idea now comes into my head, however, that if the Constitution is a foundation or framework for government structure, then who’s to say that as long as laws fit within the bounds of the Constitution that they are wrong? What I mean is that if the Democratic party wants to create larger social programs, and their ideas don’t violate the foundation of the document nor any of the amendments, then there’s nothing unconstitutional about those laws.

Problems arise, however, when laws are created that violate the spirit with which the founders wrote the constitution. As I see it, that is what’s happening in our country today.

It seems that our current Congress — and for many years now, actually — feels as though it is they who are in power. Laws are being created and bills are being written that violate — if not the actual letter — the spirit of our Constitution. The President has consistently exceeded his power as executor of those laws, issuing signing statements, acting as war chief, and otherwise trampling on the spirit of the office. For their part, the Supreme Court seems to be happy ignoring the encroaching trespasses on justice, domestic peace, general welfare, and liberty while also allowing the idea of “national defense” to be turned into a “first strike” mentality.

Unfortunately, what the citizens of the United States have not realized is that the elected officials are not who is in control of the country. Or if they are, it is only through our own apathy. Congress has no fear about being re-elected because the people most affected by their violations of the spirit of our foundational rules don’t seem to care. It’s that lack of caring that brings me back to my original point.

Being a strict constitutionalist doesn’t imply one party affiliation over another. What it implies is a willingness to consistently adhere to the principles and spirit represented in our founding document; to eschew apathy; to transcend the general and pervasive air of defeat. Our representatives in Congress are acting within the laws of the Constitution to create laws that may or may not be beneficial to their constituents. It is the constituents’ job, now, to play their part.

Each of us needs to be a “strict constitutionalist”. Each of us needs to understand the spirit of the document, the rules it sets forth, and the roles we must play in the governing of this country. This is not a country of government acting on its own, but for too long the government has acted as though it is. This is not a country run by the powerful, but one where “We the people of the United States” are in charge. It’s no easy task, but it is our job to manage the direction of our government, and this has to be done no matter the party line or ideological beliefs each of us holds. If not, there will be no Constitution left.

On the Preamble of the United States Constitution

To encapsulate one’s political views by attachment to a single party or platform is — in essence — to also limit one’s ability to address issues as they truly are. This is a truth, and one that is difficult for some people to understand. The Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, or any other party is unable to address any issue we face in this country head-on because each member of that party is beholden to a prescribed set of ideals that all lead to the same solutions. One thing I’ve found in my life is that there is no one set of solutions that fix all problems.

To that end, I remain — with a Libertarian bent — an Independent. Proud to owe or show no affiliation to any particular platform, and free to approach each problem our country faces in as objective a manner as possible.

In order to remain objective, one must always have a foundation upon which to build an observation point. For my foundation, I’ve chosen the United States Constitution. Over the next few weeks, I will be examining it in this space.

There is far too much evidence out there that people don’t really understand what the document is, what it really means, and how it can be used to set us all free from the impending tyranny of fear that is rising up in this nation.

I begin with the Preamble:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

For such a short paragraph, there’s a lot being said. What is the purpose of government? What are the ideals of the country for which the government exists? Why does this country exist at all?

The purpose of the Constitution is to establish a foundation for a country that would “form a more perfect Union” than anyone had ever seen before. Specifically, however, there are five items addressed; five reasons the founders believed a government should exist:

  • Establish justice
  • Insure domestic tranquility
  • Provide for national (common) defense
  • Promote the welfare of the population
  • Secure the idea of liberty for all generations

In the eyes of the founders, then, government should do all of the above: nothing more, nothing less. If at any point anyone of us feels that even one of the above is missing from our lives, the government is not doing what the founders intended. This is the philosophy behind the entire document.

The key, however, to the preamble appears when you read it without the five purposes of government and the reason for the document. “We the People of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution…”. Who establishes the Constitution? The citizens of the country for which the government is established. It’s a powerful realization.

The document is not presented by a government, then, but by the combined effort of a people from a shared region who are agreeing to unite in their common causes; who are working together to solve their problems: to establish justice, peace, defense, welfare and liberty for themselves and the future. This is the foundation upon which our country is built.

We are a United States. United for the betterment of all citizens under the Constitution. United in order to better provide for each other. United in order to better defend one another. United in order to form a more perfect union. It wasn’t intended by our founders, but we are at the point where each of us must be asking ourselves whether or not we are still working towards the five simple reasons for government. That’s how we know if we’re moving in the right direction.

So, rather than attach ourselves to a platform or party of supposed ideology, we should attach ourselves to the ultimate platform and actual ideology upon which all others are based: our Constitution. Each party, after all, is simply an attempt at approaching the creation of government in a different way. Choose however you wish, but never forget the five reasons you are choosing: justice, domestic1 peace, common defense, welfare of the citizens, and liberty.

1. Word added as a clarification. See comments thread for details.