FLINT - Here is what you'll hear around election time every year: "It doesn't matter who you support, just make sure you exercise your right to vote."
Politicians who say that don't mean it, of course. They'd be perfectly happy if the people who don't back them stayed home, but saying so sounds horrible so you'll seldom hear any of them say it out loud.
But I'll say it: Hey, if you don't want to vote, don't vote. It's no skin off my nose. The republic won't fall. It hasn't yet, has it? I rest my case.
Yes, I suppose it would be nice if everyone did vote. But I doubt full voter participation has ever happened, even during the first presidential election. I'll bet some grumblers skipped it because they figured the Brits should have won. Some, I'm sure, just thought voting was too much of a bother. I'll bet there were even a few who said, "You know politicians - they promise the moon then do whatever benefits themselves anyway. So why bother?" There are cranks in every era.
I've heard some people say we ought to invent some way to force people to vote, like by suspending their driver's license if they miss more than an election or two.
As someone who commutes daily, I think that's a perfectly awful idea. I see how people drive. If they can't handle the responsibility of staying in one lane or not jabbing a text into their phone while driving, I'm perfectly happy with them not voting. We're better off, trust me.
I think our system is fine the way it is. You can vote if you like, but no one's going to force you if you don't. Most of the people who don't vote are people I don't want voting anyway.
Jay Leno, the late night host, does a regular segment that illustrates what I'm talking about. It's called "Jaywalking," and it features Jay in various locations around Los Angeles asking people questions that anybody older than 10 ought to know - who is the president of the United States, which side we were on in World War II and so on. Recently, I watched a YouTube collage of Jaywalking. It had these exchanges:
Leno: "Who was the famous French emperor who had a pastry named after him?"
Woman: "Crme brulee?"
Leno: "Who fiddled while Rome burned?"
Woman: "Fiddled? Fiddled with what?"
Leno: "Have you heard of (the Gettysburg Address)?"
Woman (annoyed): "Yes, I've heard of it. I don't know the exact address."
Leno (pointing at an American flag): "How many stars are on that flag?"
Woman: "It's moving too fast to count them."
Call me cynical but I can't help but think that democracy is better off out of the hands of people like that.
In fact, I'd like to encourage more people not to vote. Specifically, I'm thinking here of the so-called "undecided voters" the media are always doing stories about as the election nears. They're the final 10 percent, maybe less, who supposedly can't make up their minds. Candidates slobber after them, suck up to them, plot their entire campaigns around them.
After watching this phenomenon for a few decades, I've decided they're not undecided at all. One of two things is going on with these people: 1) Either they enjoy the idea that they control the election, so they hold off committing as long as possible; 2) Or they're just lazy and haven't bothered to figure out the differences between the candidates. In the case of the latter group, they're the ones who end up picking a candidate based on who they'd rather have a beer or soda with, which is why the media does that story every election.
In either case, though, it's an irony of the American political system that the presidential race is often decided by the chronically wishy-washy. The sad thing is you know what most of these people say to themselves the day after the election:
"You know what - maybe I should have gone with the other guy."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.