"I Voted" sticker. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Are you voting Tuesday? More than 300 polling sites throughout Bexar County will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s your last chance to make your voice heard in this year’s general election.

Midterm elections always draw lower turnouts than presidential elections, and midterm turnout this year is down significantly from 2010 for reasons no one really knows. Voter apathy is one of democracy’s most intractable problems.

Lion's Field covered in candidate signs. Photo by Robert Rivard.
Lion’s Field covered in candidate signs. Photo by Robert Rivard.

It’s not like the stakes aren’t high. Voters will choose a U.S. Senator, members of Congress, officeholders for the top jobs in Texas and the Legislature, and a host of important local offices, including county judge and district attorney.

Yet only 169,000 of the county’s 960,000 registered voters – that’s 17.6% – turned out for the 12-day early voting period. If history is any guide, even fewer people will vote on Tuesday, especially if the weather predictions of rain are correct. Another 150,000 voters out of the remaining 791,000 are likely to show up, maybe.

That means about one-third or less of eligible voters will participate in the 2014 general election. The majority of eligible voters will stay at home and not exercise one of democracy’s most basic rights.

If it helps motivate you, here is a list of the Bexar County voting sites. You also can review a sample generic ballot at the Bexar County Election site. The actual ballot will list only the races in your voting district.

Voting line at the Central Library on election day, Nov 6, 2012. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Voting line at the Central Library on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A member of a community group complained at City Council on Thursday that many working class people and people of color do not vote because elected officials ignore their needs and views and they feel disenfranchised. Yet a person can’t claim to be a stakeholder in a system if they don’t participate in the system. Voting gives voice to the individual and the right to participate in the system as a fully invested citizen.

It’s hard to accord a non-voter standing when they complain about the system or a particular issue. If there were a way to know who voted and who didn’t vote, how much time and attention would voters pay the non-voter? Most non-voters would hesitate to speak up if their lack of participation were common knowledge.

People do change the status quo by exercising their right to vote and choose leaders. Virtually every election features very different candidates with very different political and governing philosophies vying for the same office. Who gets chosen by voters does matter.

Almost everyone I encounter in my line of work has a strongly held view on one subject or another that is strongly influenced by public policy decisions. It could be education, health care, the environment, public transportation, property taxes, or a hundred other topics. How can you hold passionate views on any of these important matters and then decide not to vote?

Choosing not to vote diminishes the individual and renders one a voiceless bystander. Voting elevates the individual to engaged citizen. Voting feels good, and gives the participant a sense of accomplishment, of duty fulfilled.

You get a cool “I Voted” sticker to wear. Voting also heightens your interest in the outcome as the polls close at 7 p.m. and the early voting results are announced. As a new wave of officeholders are sworn in and get to work, the voter can voice his or her views with the authority of someone who has participated in the system and has earned the right to speak their mind.

Want some statewide and national attention, San Antonio? Surpass all predictions for low voter turnout and general apathy on Tuesday and vote. Bring family members with you, and bring your children so they learn from an early age what a sacred and valued right it is to vote in free and fair elections. Let’s show the state’s other metro area how an engaged citizenry turns out on Election Day. It would make a great headline.

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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.