Guest Column: Why I didn’t vote in the last election

By John Russell Ghrist

Basically, I consider myself a good person. I pay my taxes, make contributions and don’t litter. But this time, I did not vote in the last election. In fact, my voting record is not very good. It seems that I have fallen into the careless thinking of millions of other Americans who feel as though their vote does not matter anymore.

My civics teacher would probably turn over in her grave if she knew I had lost interest in the political processes of this country. These are the same values that our early founding fathers set up and our soldiers have fought to preserve.

Many members of the military have come back injured, and others not at all, defending our rights to vote and live in a free country. As an American, I should better appreciate the opportunity to vote.

You can scorn me if you like, but I have plenty of reasons of disgust with elections and those who run for public office. I used to vote in every election.

Perhaps, some of this comes from my 19 years of employment with the State of Illinois. I worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations. I never took sides, and just did my job. My last position was in public relations with IDOT. It was a routine, but interesting, job, sending out news releases about road construction projects (there is always some of that going on), maintaining computer databases, taking photos, building lobby displays, covering meetings, and doing the voice-overs for public meeting presentations. When I came to Rockford some dozen years ago, I thought these skills could be used here … but no municipal leaders were interested in me.

All was going well at the state, until a devious fellow by the name of Blagojevich came on the scene. He’s the same one who is now sitting things out in a Colorado federal prison. This person made all kinds of promises, but overturned anything good that had been happening in the state, put us in more debt and brought more corruption to Illinois than any other governor. We also found out from listening to those federal wiretap tapes how much he and his wife really hate the Chicago Cubs.

We all remember when Blagojevich flew in to Rockford one time, threw the city some campaign crumbs, and then exited quickly before a team of revealing reporters could confront him on the issues. They also wanted to ask him about using a state helicopter to fly home for dinner each night at the taxpayers’ expense.

Blago also brought in all of his crony pals to run things, including doorbell ringers who got highly-paid jobs and did nothing all day. These individuals replaced people like me who actually worked and got things done. One by one, the feds also rooted out the various money men who were also involved in the former governor’s schemes.

I really do not think much of the current guy running things here, and have to confess that I have never met an honest politician. When they get elected, they have to pay back all the special-interest groups and their financial supporters with jobs and favors. Give them any money or leeway to spend, and politicians will waste it on something else and not pay the state’s bills or properly fund its pensions, which has also become a controversial issue.

It is the career political hacks and wannabes who have ruined the election process and turned off many potential voters like me. Oh, these people want you to vote, but do everything they can to discourage it. These are the leaders who change political boundaries to make sure their parties win elections in certain districts. These are the same people who challenge the candidacy of someone who does not have much political backing or resources or someone from a minor party. These are the same corrupt individuals who will run some false candidate with a similar name against an incumbent who might be doing a good job, just to steal votes.

Over the years, it has become a bad joke in Chicago to vote and then vote again. In small towns, just a few votes can decide a major election or issue. Much of that does not happen outside the big cities, but it is easy to steal an election in other ways. In the recent one, one candidate used his own millions and bought his nomination, outspending his rivals with mud-slinging ads.

We are all tired of each political season and hearing what candidates say they will do and how bad the other guy running is. When there are voting forums, some of the major candidates fail to show up. Then, there are all those nuisance political phone calls, online meetings and constant e-mails asking for money. All the resources spent on campaigning could be better used to solve hunger, jobs and housing problems in this country.

I also remember having a man come to my door who was running for something whom I had been involved in a very minor fender-bender with a few days earlier. My car had clipped the snow blade on his pick-up truck on an icy street in Elgin. The man ranted and raved and swore that he was going “to sue my pants off” in front of the police. He made sure I got a ticket.

Then, he came to my door and read a spiel off a clipboard and asked for my vote. I then eagerly replied, “Do you really think that I would vote for you after your antics in the street last week?”

The guy suddenly realized who I was, and left abruptly. The clipboard routine was tried on me again just before this recent election. I thought this young man at my door did not have my senior citizen concerns at heart, wished him well, but did not sign his petition. Perhaps this kid was intrigued by all the perks political office can bring? Some better candidates would certainly help interest more people in voting.

Over the years, I have seen mothers unloading kids with a child restraint seat in the back of a car with municipal plates at a shopping mall. Geez, I thought, we taxpayers are footing the bill for a state car that is being used for personal reasons. During a previous election in this city, I went to get my mail in the morning and observed that every mailbox in our neighborhood was plastered with campaign stickers. This reminded me of the time I needed a ride to the polls and got into a car that was covered with political placards. Then, there are those annoying political signs that are still littering our roadsides and seen blowing down the streets long after the elections are over.

Thank goodness that campaigning in front of the polls is prohibited now. The signs posted nearby are not necessary, either. During another election, I stood in line for more than two hours at a polling place and just walked out. Many times, I had never heard of all the judges who were running and skipped those guys on the ballot. Several recent letters to the editor in the Chicago Tribune pointed out that citizens went to the polls to vote against some career politicians, but learned these candidates had no opposition. Hence, the election was already over. The exit polls by the networks also see to that.

People lose interest fast in a bad ball team, and will not go see a crummy movie, and regretfully, voting has become a similar uninteresting process. The elections are a rerun of the same thing every year. Much of the general public like me feels we have been shut out of the election process. There are few choices, and it’s hard to get rid of do-nothing party-backed candidates. Sure, we can vote, but will that make any difference in the outcomes when candidates can outspend all the others and then become real creeps in office? I have also found most candidates waste the entire election season bad-mouthing the other people running for office instead of discussing the real issues.

When I have called an office-holder for some advice, or help, I get tied up with a staff of young cronies who do not return phone calls or couldn’t care less about my concerns. The political people are the real blame for the low turnouts during elections and for voter apathy. This is very sad, because a handful of supporters can easily elect unqualified and rubber-stamp politicians.

While some citizens say they do not like any of the candidates, might have registration problems, or say the polling place location or hours are not convenient, it’s the negativity of the elections that turns off most potential voters. We can just hope that some people with lots of time and resources can do a decent job in office to represent us, but if we do not vote, we have no room to complain about their actions. We allowed them to get elected because we did nothing to stop it.

There are many columns on the Internet about why people do not vote. In some countries, it is mandatory that its citizens cast ballots, and in Australia, it’s a $50 fine if folks do not vote. Strong family values sometimes dictate voting, but that results in generations supporting the same party year after year without really examining where the candidates stand on the issues. Some people say they are too busy, and others just do not care.

In most states, there are absentee ballots, motor voter opportunities and lots of forums, talk shows and newspaper endorsements to help residents decide to vote. But for folks like me, we have just become totally uninterested in the process, because the same kind of candidates run every time, and then we complain when they raise taxes and do other things to annoy us. Young people who vote will choose the progressive candidates who represent their point of view and elect people who hate pensions, Medicare and other programs that favor older Americans. There really isn’t any good excuse for not voting, and one cannot really complain about things if they don’t vote. However, it just seems like an exercise in futility.

Perhaps I should rethink not participating in the last election and become more active in the process? But the politicians have ruined a system that used to fairly represent everyone. Sadly, I have fallen into the group of apathetic voters who have lost faith in the electoral method of choosing our leaders. My father, Glenn, fought in World War II against a country that would have taken away our voting privileges if the enemies had won. There are other countries today that run rigged elections or none at all. We should really cherish this privilege, and I am sorry that I feel so down about voting now.

Over the years as a news reporter, a state worker and as a citizen, I have seen so much political corruption. Those millions of good people like me who do not vote anymore have had our fill of these kinds of candidates and do-nothing hacks who win each year whether we vote or not. Asking the politicians to clean up their act and campaigns will never work, as long as there are greedy men and women who think their political agendas and backing are more important than what the citizens actually want and need. Term and enforceable campaign spending limits might help, but those who benefit from the elections will never support these important issues.

Maybe this is the time for all of us to unite as a voting bloc and get rid of everyone who has been in office for far too long and completely clean house. Now that’s an election I would be sure to vote in. Politicians would then have to reckon with us, for we are the real majority.

John Russell Ghrist is a Rockford resident.

From the July 9-15, 2014, issue

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