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Your vote is your voice—don’t be speechless

Gregory Floyd, President, Teamsters Local 237 and Vice President at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (58516)

The recent primary election in New York City saw a record low turnout of fewer than 5% of eligible voters. 

With 19 City Council seats and two district attorney seats up for grabs, this significantly low turnout, in comparison to what was seen for the mayoral primary in 2021—when 23% of eligible voters turned out, is troubling. True, several factors helped to cause the low turnout from this being an off-year election: no presidential, governor, or mayoral offices on the top of the ballot, and an unusual June voting date, which was mandated by new, court-ordered district lines necessitating another election and causing many to wonder, “Didn’t we just do this?” 

What is the problem?

With so many people around the globe fighting for the right to vote, why is it that, in the United States, where we tout voting rights as a basic ingredient of our democracy—and where so many continue to fight for greater voting access and equality—voting turnout is so low? Even in recent presidential election years, voting turnout nationally has hovered around 60% and 40% for mid-term elections. 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama put it this way: ”Here’s the problem: While some folks are frustrated and tuned out and stay home on Election Day, trust me, other folks are showing up. Democracy continues with or without you. When you don’t vote, what you’re really doing is letting someone else take power over your own life.”

John Lewis, the late civil rights activist and member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia, told us: “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.” Keith Ellison, attorney general of Minnesota, a former U.S. Representative to Congress, who also served as  deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, said, “Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.” 

George Carlin, the late comedian, proclaimed: “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spent so much of his career fighting for the right to vote for all Americans, would, no doubt, be saddened by today’s low voter turnout, which exemplifies his fear that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Voting matters.

The problem of getting more people to vote has been grappled with for decades. Marshall McLuhan, the scholar considered to be the father of modern communications and media, famously noted, “American youth attributes more importance to arriving at their driver’s license age than their voting age.” 

Rihanna, singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur, dealt with the issue of how to encourage and engage young adults to get involved with the political process by telling her youthful fans, “I don’t care what responsibilities you have today, there’s no greater responsibility than being in control of your future, and your future starts now! We don’t have time, no procrastinating, don’t let the discouragement take you off-course, that’s not how my people or my generation will go down…[voting] is the loudest way to make your voice heard!”   

And Beyoncé, the Grammy Award-winning singer and artist, has been known to urge her audience to go to the polls by telling them, “Your voices are being heard and you’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain. Now we have one more thing we need to do to walk in our true power, and that is to vote.” 

But it’s not just the attention of new voters and younger voters we need to capture and cultivate.  So many middle-aged, even long-time voters have been turned off and now tuned out to the current condition of politics. A sense of “nothing will change, so why bother” prevails. Even the encouraging advice of such highly regarded political pundits, like Peggy Noonan, seem to some to be too little, too late. When she argues that “Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls,” many just shake their heads, thinking “Yeah, right!”

And so, there is yet another important ingredient to consider for fixing the low voter turnout conundrum: the candidates. Not just the credentials, but their ability—and desire—to communicate and connect firsthand with the voters. Polling has taken the place of talking directly to people. On Election Day, the old-fashioned, but successful tactics of a “pulling operation” with door-to-door volunteers and sound trucks roaming the streets announcing the day, has been reconfigured to robo calls that most of us hang up on.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, actor, and creator of ”Hamilton,” famously tells his audience:Our nation is asking to hear your voice because November is coming and so is your choice. Do not throw away your shot.” 

True. As we encourage voters’ involvement, let’s hear more person-to-person from the candidates, too. Sure, our vote is our voice, but we also need a conversation to help produce it.


Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at large of the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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