In 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s historic election, 6 million Americans wanted to vote but couldn’t because they weren’t registered, according to the U.S. Census.
Some missed a registration deadline; others didn’t know they had to register, or how to do it.
Now, five years later, 50 million people across the country still aren’t registered, and a disproportionate number are Latino or African American — minority groups that historically suffer the most when elected officials ignore the problems in their neighborhoods, including high crime and unemployment, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and a toxic environment.
In Springfield, state lawmakers don’t adequately fund pensions, balance budgets, pay bills, eliminate bureaucratic bloat or attack ethical breeches.
And local governments have their own failings.
So connect the dots: Voters have to start electing people who work for them and their communities — not the insiders who take care of their friends, relatives, political cronies and, of course, themselves.
Simple as that.
But you can’t vote if you don’t register, and that’s why a coalition of advocacy groups have declared this Tuesday, Sept. 24, the country’s first National Voter Registration Day.
It will feature rallies, teach-ins, celebrity appearances, and multimedia messages focusing on the importance of registering and then voting.
One Latino empowerment group says the day “seeks to do for participation in democracy what Earth Day did for the environment.”
To learn more, visit nationalvoterregistrationday.org.
The site also enables you to access a voter registration card that’s ready to print, sign and mail in; and to start receiving emails and text messages with candidate and election information.
It’s a great civic engagement tool.
As for the overall registration drive, we’ll see if it’s having an impact, or turning out to be another well meaning but ultimately ineffectual exercise, when Illinois holds its local and statewide primaries next March.
It’s an off-year election, without a presidential race, so campaigns typically receive less media coverage, which results in lower voter turnouts.
But registration is already getting easier in Illinois, and that’s healthy.
Here’s a primer:
* You have to be a U.S. citizen and live in your precinct for at least 30 days prior to the next election.
* If you’re 17, but turning 18 by the November 2014 general election, you can register and vote in the March primary. This downward age adjustment is a first, the result of a new state law.
* And another first — starting next July, you’ll be able to register online.
Until then, you’ll have to register by mailing in your form; or visiting a county clerk’s office, a city or village hall, or a local library.
As the head of a watchdog organization, people ask me what they can do to help stop the waste, fraud, inefficiency and abuse we uncover every day.
Well, one way is to pay attention to who’s running, and vote wisely.
But let me say it again: You can’t vote if you’re not registered.
And if you don’t vote, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.
Isn’t it time to reclaim our small “d” democracy and get the good government we pay for?
If you agree, do your civic duty.
Register. Pay attention. And then vote.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.Twitter @andyshawbga.