Op-Ed from the office of Senator Carlos Uresti

February 29, 2008
CONTACT: 512-463-0119

The Most Important Civic Duty

by Senator Carlos Uresti

In an election year, Americans are bombarded with hundreds of political messages from candidates running for everything from precinct chair to president. With this overload of press coverage and paid advertisements, it is not hard to see how potential voters can become overwhelmed to the point of apathy. So many voters believe that their single vote will not make a difference in the outcome of elections and, consequently, they end up leaving the decision of who gets elected to the precious few who actually get out and cast a ballot.

So far, there has already been a significant rise in the percentage of voters who voted early in Texas. The secretary of state's website predicts that 26% of registered voters will vote early, and one week before Election Day, the number of early voters doubled the number from 2004. This turnout is something that should make us all proud, however, there is obviously room for improvement.

In the United States, a little over half of our population registers to vote. Excluding countries like Australia and Malta, which both exercise compulsory voting, the U.S. ranks below Brazil, Japan, Russia, and most European countries in terms of voter turnout. This is a problem that we as a country need to come together to solve. Voting is our most important civic duty, and is so ingrained in our American heritage, that it surprises me to learn that so few people are ultimately responsible for deciding who represents us in office.

By the time you read this, early voting will be over, but the opportunity to vote on Election Day (March 4th) is still available. As a public official, my commitment to voter turnout should be apparent. I am given the privilege to represent Senate District 19, as well as all Texans, and I do so with pride. The people who have given me this precious opportunity have fulfilled their part of the contract of "government for the people, by the people," and I urge those of you who haven't voted to please voice your opinion in this historic election.

The problem of voter apathy is a complex one with many possible solutions, however it is probably safe to say that no one solution can accomplish the ultimate goal of 100% voter turnout. Even Australians only vote at a rate of 95%, and the government fines them if they don't vote! While this method is extreme by U.S. standards, the resulting high rate of voter turnout shouldn't be. As our lives become busier and our schedules burst at the seams with appointments and to-do lists, it is important to remember that America was founded by men and women who left their homes because they had no voice in the societies of Europe. Our forefathers intended for the United States and its citizens to ideologically rise above the rest of the world, and that means voting to ensure that the sacred contract between government and population is fulfilled.

Carlos I. Uresti is the senator from State Senate District 19, a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County, including all or part of the following counties: Bandera, Bexar, Brewster, Culberson, Crockett, El Paso, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler. Covering 55,000 square miles, the district contains 62 school districts, and spans two time zones. As the largest geographical senate district in the contiguous 48 states, Senate District 19 is larger than 24 states and 25 countries.