As a child, I loved going to the polls with my mother. We would go into the booth together and she would let me pull the lever. That night, I would always try to stay up late enough to find out who won. I always felt excited if we helped elect the winner and was disappointed if the candidate we voted for lost. I would think about the day that I would turn 18 and have a chance to vote just like my mother.
However, the year I turned 18, I did not vote and did not vote until there was a presidential race two years later. As a young adult, I was unburdened and indifferent to state and local issues. I did not think much of the non-presidential elections, not realizing that the selection of members of the General Assembly and governor, as well as my representatives on a municipal level affect my day-to-day life.
Statistics show that I was not alone in feeling this way. In general, the United States has notoriously low voter turnout rates for presidential elections and even lower turnouts for non-presidential race years. One recent report published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance puts the United States at No. 120 on a list of 169 countries ranked by voter turnout. Australia comes in first place, and virtually every other Western democracy ranks above the United States.
In Pennsylvania, no one in the U.S. House or Senate or the state General Assembly, and not even the governor, is up for re-election this year. This year’s election on Nov. 5 focuses on the local representatives in our municipalities. But just because this year’s election lacks the “buzz” of a presidential year, there is no excuse to skip out on voting. It is especially important for the Jewish community to vote in every election and show our local elected officials that our community has a voice.
Beyond the issues facing all Pennsylvanians in this year’s election — the management of our police, fire, education, housing and transportation departments in our boroughs and townships — the Jewish community also faces the issue of Jewish day school affordability. History has proven that Jewish education is critical to the continuity and survival of the Jewish people, but the cost of educating our children continues to rise toward unsustainable levels. The Day School Affordability issue demands our attention. O.U. Advocacy-PA and our partners have fought for — and successfully secured — funding for a new scholarship tax credit program, expansion of an existing tax credit program and for school safety and security funding. But more must be done.
These programs, as well as the many others, such as textbook funding and transportation, that our schools take part in, cannot be taken for granted and must be protected. The Jewish community must work with our legislators at every level of government to ensure that these programs continue to exist for our schools and families.
In turn, our elected officials want to see civic participation from our community, particularly at the polls.
One of the easiest ways to help remedy tuition affordability, therefore, is by going out to vote. Legislators and their staff meticulously track where votes come from. They campaign in those areas and consider the issues of their constituents who show up at the polls. If our entire community comes out to vote — especially during “off-year” elections— legislators will see that we are involved in the political process and committed to the larger community’s civic needs and will attend to our issues.
Voting is not easy in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has among the most restrictive voting laws in the country. Pennsylvania does not have same-day registration, online registration, mail-in ballots and other processes to facilitate voting that other states have. It takes a lot of effort for Pennsylvania residents with jobs and family responsibilities to take the time to register and go to the polls.
Despite these obstacles, the truth remains: If you do not vote, you do not have a voice.
If we want our local municipalities and officials in Harrisburg to help the Jewish community, then we must show them that we are involved in the electoral process. We need to let them know that we care about who represents us and which issues they pursue.
In Pennsylvania, there is in fact an election taking place on Nov. 5. Please make sure to vote.
Michelle Twersky serves as O.U. Advocacy’s associate regional director in Pennsylvania, working in partnership with the Jewish leadership of the Keystone State to advance the needs of the community to local and state legislators.