As I watched the chaos and mudslinging of the two political conventions just completed, I became more concerned that the American public will become even more disconnected from the voting process. This is an election about two extremes in the candidates of each party. My purpose here is not to take a position on one or the other but to focus instead on the critical need for engagement and involvement on the part of the American public.
Voting in elections in Texas, whether local, statewide or at the national level, is among the lowest in the nation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that one party dominates statewide races and controls both the Senate and the House in Austin. Knowing people whose political leanings range from the far right to the far left, I have heard many say that their votes don’t really count, that they cannot have an impact by casting a single vote. And that may be right at a national level, but local and statewide races have been decided by low double digit vote count on more than one occasion.
What I do know is that, while one vote may or may not impact the outcome of an election, the compounding of one vote can have a dramatic impact. Consider how one vote can evolve into multiple. A student in high school who has turned 18 registers to vote and exercises their right to participate in the democratic process. Their excitement is passed along to parents and friends with an encouragement for them to engage and to vote. Those individuals in turn do the same with their family, friends and others.
Is this realistic? I am proud to say that I have seen it happen. Make Education a Priority, a 501(c)(3) advocating for public education, is proud to be affiliated with a number of organizations who developed a program called Texas Educators Vote (http://texaseducatorsvote.com/). Operating under the leadership of Texas Association of Community Schools (http://www.tacsnet.org/), this grassroots movement has already had an impact on voter turnout among educators. One need look no further than the recent State Board of Education runoff in east Texas that turned the results of the primary upside down.
It’s easy to sit back and be apathetic about the election process or the challenges that our elected officials face every day. As public education advocates, however, we cannot take the easy way out. With a strong push at the federal and state level to shift dollars and focus away from public education, it has never been more important to participate in the democratic process of voting than it is now. Take the time to understand the issues and perspectives on public education and understand the impact of some of these perspectives. At the end of the day, exercise your right to vote and, through your vote, demonstrate the requirement to Make Education a Priority.