If You Don’t Vote …

If You Don’t Vote …

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

I thought about starting this column by saying, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain,” but decided against being snarky.

Of course you can express your opinions, even if you don’t vote. That’s your privilege as an American.

Your credibility may suffer, however, if you complain about government but fail to exercise a valuable franchise protected by amendments to the Constitution. Elsewhere in the world, men and women quite literally risk their lives in pursuit of what tens of millions of Americans squander.

As for you partisans — who have spent months venting your spleens, gnashing your teeth, losing Facebook friends and wearing out online comments sections — know this: The United States of America, this 240-year-old republic “of the people, by the people, for the people,” will survive even if (fill in the name of the candidate you revile) is elected.

The founders set the government on a three-legged stool: the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. In varying ways and to varying degrees (and, yes, sometimes they disappoint), each acts as a check on the power of the other two and provides the balance necessary to keep the whole enterprise from going off the rails.

This is the 16th presidential election in my lifetime, and every one of them has been “the most important election.” I cannot think of a time when the nation did not face challenges at home and abroad deemed the most critical in its history.

As important as who we elect is how our leaders are chosen. Maintaining the integrity of the electoral process is crucial to America’s standing in the world. This is not a country where a dictator or ruling party claims victory with 97 percent of the vote and there is little reason to trust that the will of the people has been freely expressed.

Impugning the validity of the process by insisting that it is “rigged” (particularly when the evidence indicates otherwise) potentially has severe consequences. If the governed no longer believe that elections are as free and fair as possible, then a major piece of the social contract is broken, and that alone has caused chaos in other countries.

We have the right to vote because we are Americans.

We vote as Americans who are Jewish, not the other way around, though we may feel that by voting we participate in tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

Jews regularly cast ballots at a rate of 80 percent or better, far greater than the voting-age population as a whole, less than 54 percent of which turned out in 2012.

There is no monolithic “Jewish vote,” in the sense that all Jews share the same opinion (perish the thought). There is no uniform view of how we look to Judaism for guidance in making our choices.

Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans have different political philosophies.

Contrary to what pandering politicians appear to believe, Israel is not the top priority for most Jewish voters. Like their fellow Americans, the economy tops the list of issues.

Even among Jews who think that Israel should receive greater consideration, there is no consensus as to which candidate to support.

With citizenry come obligations. Or not.

America requires relatively little of its citizens in the way of participation in public life. America does not ask what you can do for your country as much as its elections ask what your country can do for you. You answer by voting.

Some journalists don’t vote to avoid expressing an opinion even in the sanctity of the voting booth. There have been times when I considered adopting that standard. As it happens, I voted early, a couple of weeks ago.

This will be the first election I have not spent in a newsroom since 1976. There is a particular energy in a newsroom on Election Night, as well as a lot of pizza. I will miss that energy (not the pizza), but a comfortable chair in the living room with my laptop and the remote control will be a suitable substitute.

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