By Randy Dwyer
Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading architects of our republic, is often quoted as Election Day nears. His words serve as a reminder that every American has a responsibility to participate in the election process and vote for legislators and a government that represent the people as our founding fathers envisioned their young nation.
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate,” Jefferson said.
Those are strong words with a clear message: Participate in the voting process or someone else will decide who will govern. It’s a reminder – and a warning – to all Americans about the need to vote on Election Day.
Studies show that 53 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in 2012. This number increased to 60 percent for the 2016 presidential election. Historically, midterm elections can have some of the lowest voter turnout, most recently in 2014 when only 36 percent of eligible voters nationwide casted their vote.
The importance of voting is also found in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data showing that while 97 percent of America’s landmass is considered rural, it is home to slightly less than 20 percent of our nation’s population.
Rural America is where Farm Bureau members live and work. And while rural Americans have a strong history of participating in the election process, it is important for them to keep the momentum moving forward and to vote in every election.
Knowing this, the American Farm Bureau Federation has launched a national effort to remind everyone to vote on Election Day. This includes an easy-to-navigate website where you can find your polling location, apply for an absentee ballot, vote early if allowed in your state and even register to vote. It’s an effort to encourage everyone to participate in the election process, just as Thomas Jefferson envisioned in 1803.
You’ll also be able to see the candidates who are running for local, state and federal office based on your home address.
Farmers, ranchers and other rural residents are encouraged to take the PLEDGE TO VOTE and share the #Vote4Ag and #iFarmiVote hashtags on social media. Many states have their own voting effort underway using these or similar hashtags.
A strong showing from rural America on Election Day will echo in the halls of Congress as well as in every state’s capitol. The impact of a strong rural vote will also be felt in local, city and county governments. Having legislators who understand the needs and concerns of rural America at every level of government will ensure our voice is heard.
In Congress, there is still much work to be done. As lawmakers continue to debate regulation and immigration reform, we need to ensure they understand the concerns of farmers and ranchers.
Tax reform, improvements to rural infrastructure and opening trade markets for our products are important issues that newly elected members of Congress will find in front of them after they are sworn into office in January.
As we consider these weighty issues, it’s important to take a minute to remind the youth of rural America to vote. Studies show that when young people take the right to vote seriously and participate in the election process, they often become lifelong voters.
Isn’t that what Thomas Jefferson had in mind for our country all along?
Randy Dwyer is director of advocacy & grassroots development at the American Farm Bureau Federation.