Election Motivation

Election observers have long lamented the fact that only roughly half of registered voters cast ballots in presidential elections, and even fewer vote in other races.

A 2008 study by Stanford University researchers Joshua Harder and Jon A. Krosnick found that “an individual citizen’s turnout behavior is a joint function of his or her social location, his or her psychological dispositions, the procedures involved in voting, and events that occur at the time of each election.”

Translation: citizens with lower incomes and education are less likely to vote; married couples and people who participate in civic organizations are more likely to vote; convenient voter registration and polling site locations mean higher turnout and, lastly, significant events—like the 2008 recession—can affect turnout.

But up until today’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, my motivation was much simpler: I voted because of my mom.

My mother, Mildred L. Shiver, was a poll watcher for Fairfax County for more than 40 years.

When I graduated from high school, she insisted that I register to vote; when I was away in college in Syracuse, New York, she arranged to send me absentee ballots; and, after I returned to northern Virginia, she served as a poll watcher at various Mount Vernon District polling sites for every off-year and presidential election since Jimmy Carter.

The last time I cast my ballot in the presence of my mom was in June 2017, when I took her to vote in the Virginia primary election. Too sick to walk, she filled out a ballot from the passenger seat of my car while I went inside to vote. She died less than two months later.

I often encounter people in my travels who say they don’t vote because it doesn’t matter. “It’s all rigged; there’s no difference whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in office” one store clerk in Atlanta, Georgia recently told me, after he lamented the state of the area’s economy.

Indeed, few Americans trust the integrity of their elections.

A Gallup poll conducted two weeks before Election Day last year found that only 35 percent of Americans were “very confident” that their vote would be counted accurately, according to an article in the Washington Post written by Pippa Norris, Holly Ann Garnett and Max Grömping. That sentiment helped rank the United States 90th out of 112 countries, when people around the world were asked how confident they were in the honesty of their elections.

I’m not sure what fuels this sentiment. I know that my vote has made a difference. And I thank my mom for motivating me, all these years, to vote in every election. It’s a motivation I’m passing along to my two sons. I hope you encourage someone to vote today, and in every future election, as well.

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