For The Love Of Pete, Vote

Published in Online Spin, November 4, 2016.

November 7, 2000. Election night. Ken and I are wandering through the French Quarter of New Orleans, popping in and out of bars and taking in the sights.
I haven’t voted. I’m not at home, and the absentee ballot, quite frankly, seemed like kind of a pain in the ass -- especially since my vote wouldn’t really make much difference. Why bother?

In Louisiana, every bar and restaurant is broadcasting the election results. We walk into one just as they make a huge announcement: CNN has called Florida for Al Gore.

I experience a mild sense of satisfaction -- had I voted, it would have been for Gore. Sweet, I think. That’s that.

We finish our drinks and head to the next establishment. By then the networks are singing a different tune. “We’ve changed our call on Florida and are now projecting George Bush to take the win in the swing state.”

A mild sense of disappointment. Darn, I think. I should have voted.

On it goes. Now Gore again. Back to Bush. Gore. Bush. Gore. Bush. Eventually, tired and a bit drunk, we go back to our hotel.

The first thing I do when I wake up the next morning is turn on CNN. The announcer is saying, “Well, the election is still undecided, and it all comes down to the state of Florida.”

Darn. I should have voted.

“And one of the most hotly contested counties in Florida is Broward Country.” Where I live, natch.

Yikes. I really should have voted.

“And I’m broadcasting to you from Lester’s Diner…”

My jaw falls open. In astonishment, I realize he is standing not two blocks from my house. The next thing I’m expecting him to say is, “And YOU, Kaila Colbin, didn’t vote! Shame on you. We’re all waiting for you.”

We all know the result of that election. In the end, it came down to 535 votes in the state of Florida.

My one vote would not have changed the outcome. But it’s a very different thing to think of your vote as one in 535 than to think of it as one in 110 million.

As the weight of my failure to participate in our democracy sunk in, I began to feel a profound sense of shame.

Yes, voting is a right -- but it is also a privilege. It is a privilege that was hard-fought and hard-won, and one that billions of people around the world still don’t have. And I didn’t bother because it seemed like kind of a pain in the ass? What kind of spoiled, self-entitled brat am I?

By not voting, I had abdicated the most direct and powerful tool I had to influence the direction of our government. If I liked the way things were going, that was my chance to say so, in the most concrete of terms. If I didn’t like the way things were going, same.

Instead, for eight years, I felt I had no standing to make any sort of commentary on the state of our politics. Any opinion I had would be tainted by my own internal response: Really? That’s what you think? Then why the heck didn’t you vote?

I don’t care who you vote for. Vote. I don’t care whether or not you think your vote will make a difference, or how close or not close you think the election is going to be. Vote. I don’t even care if you live in a swing state. Vote.

Democracy works through the collective action of millions, and you, as one of those millions, have not only the right but, I would suggest, the obligation to participate.

As my friend Eric Liu says, “There's no such thing as not voting. Not voting is voting. Not voting is voting to hand your power and your voice and your potential over to somebody else whose interests and worldview may be completely hostile to your own.”

Or to put it even more simply: for the love of Pete, vote.