I once saw a bumper stick that said, "I am a Christian and I vote." This was in the heyday of the values voter and I suppose it was intended to convey a message about conservative Christians and their power at the polls. Of course, when I read the bumper sticker my first reaction was: Hey, that's me!
Today is Election Day here in Ohio and around the country and I won't be voting. I confess to this unfortunate circumstance because voting has been so very important to me throughout my adult life. In my heart and mind I have always connected being a Christian and voting. Voting is for me a concrete way to bear witness to what I believe about God's realm on earth – about compassion, justice and equality.
Voting allows me to pay homage to the sacrifices of the many who gave their lives to secure the right to vote for people like me. Increasingly, it is also a way to bear witness to my convictions about the stewardship of God's creation.
However, this year I am in transition. I'm a registered voter in Syracuse, New York, who has just arrived in Cleveland to begin working and setting up a new household here. To be truthful, I just got a new address here in Ohio at the end of last week. Therefore, I could not have registered before today in any event.
This is a complicated state of affairs that leaves me with empathy for at least some of my sisters and brothers who fail to participate in elections. I realize now that there are times when people have good reason to miss the opportunity. Yet, I remain disappointed with the low participation rate among American voters. I want to urge everyone to take seriously the privilege and responsibility of the franchise. But I do so with great humility, because I know that sometimes people have good reason to be among the missing.
Here in Ohio we're considering the legalization of casino gambling. We're also looking at reorganizing county government in Cuyahoga County. These issues are being contested with a major corruption scandal in the background.
There is a considerable debate within the African American community about the merits of a new form of county government. In actuality, these are all very important issues. Yet this is an off-year in politics - no big personalities running for office, no national election. All of this leads me to wonder if there will be much of a turnout among registered voters.
The issues at hand, though not the most compelling, remain important. Many pin their hopes of an economic recovery at least partially on the introduction of casino gambling. Others see it as another way to exploit low-income people and burden families with the danger of another potential addiction.
Revamping county government could provide a streamlined governmental system with an elected county executive. On the other hand there are those who are concerned that the proposed restructuring would diminish the political strength of African American voters to the detriment of our communities. The danger now is that these issues will be decided by the few and not the many.
I'm not sure what outcomes a larger voter turnout would produce. However, I do believe that if more people were involved there would be less of an inclination for our political leaders to feel that they are only accountable to a few wealthy donors, lobbyists or some other narrow slice of the population they serve, such as family and friends. Here I would also note that family and friends are usually the beneficiaries of corruption when it comes to light.
Even though I'm not participating in this election, I still hope that many others will and I'm cheering them on. I also hope that others will be encouraged to participate because in the end, I believe that increasing the degree of accountability to voters may be the best outcome of greater participation in the electoral process. So, if you're like me and sitting this one out, don't despair. Let's get ready for the next one. Let's register and vote, as soon as possible!
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black is the UCC's General Minister and President.