By: Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
Does every vote count—or only those of the candidate who won?
In the wake of this month's momentous presidential election, some commentators want to re-write the rules of American politics. They're making believe that American political elections are a zero-sum, winner-takes-all, loser-gets-none game.
Yes, the majority of the American electorate has spoken, and its votes have returned President Bush to office.
But no one should forget that at least 115 million—and it may be as high as 120 million—American voters cast their ballots in this election, and that each and every vote, the voice of an American citizen, does count.
Thus, under those rules, there are numerous facets of the vote for the White House in addition to the ultimate tally that deserve proper consideration.
One is realizing that this campaign energized the American electorate as a whole more than any in decades.
Latino voting nationwide appears to have increased from nearly 6 million four years ago to at least 7.5 million this year; and the number of African Americans voting may have increased by as much as 25 percent, to more than 13 million.
Have political scientists, historians, journalists, and political junkies in general been for years bemoaning the long-term decline in voter participation?
Well, here's the proof that we don't have to accept that decline as inevitable.
Have we at the National Urban League been vigorously calling for Americans to become more politically aware and active, as part of a broader campaign of civic engagement?
Well, we got our wish, as far as this campaign and election was concerned.
Of course, there is a great deal more to do to stimulate greater civic participation among Americans, especially among the poor and working poor. We've got to do better at making them realize civic engagement is a matter not just of altruism but of self-interest as well.
Also, in that regard, there remains much to do to resolve many of the issues that were really at the heart of the electoral campaign: stimulating jobs that pay decent wages; resolving the pension- and health-benefits crisis; making access to a quality education a reality for more children, and so on.
The problems America faces, either abroad or on the home front, aren't going away just because this election has been decided.
Nonetheless, there remains much about this election worth celebrating—and taking inspiration from.
For example, more young adults 18 to 29 turned out to vote in substantial numbers this time—nearly 21 million—than had in any election since 18-year-old gained the right to vote in 1972. Indeed, the numerical total was a 4.7 million-increase over the 2000 Youth vote, and marked the first time a majority (51.6 percent) of those in this age group eligible to vote actually did so.
The youth voting totals even surpassed the goals set by such youth-focused voter-registration efforts as Rock The Vote campaign, MTV's "Choose or Lose"campaign, and the respective efforts of rap impresarios Russell Simmons and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs.
No less an authority on the importance of the right to vote than Andrew Young, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and one of the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s chief strategists, applauded their efforts, calling them "cultural trailblazers for [helping secure]… the voice of many young Americans who otherwise might not have exercised their right to vote"this November.
Of course, no one knows if this interest in who our political representatives are and the commitment to voting among these new voters will be sustained.
It's the task of those of us who do have that commitment to see that it is; and we need not pretend that the job will be an easy one. But certainly we should take the fact of the increased participation of these three groups alone—in a nation in which the young, and people of color are becoming more numerous—as inspiration to redouble, not lessen, our efforts.
Speaking of the Youth Vote efforts, Andrew Young said, "I hope the commitment of the hip-hop generation [to participate in politics and vote] is for the long haul ……"
That same hope—and command—applies to all of us.
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