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Community Matters: When “None of the Above” is Your Only Choice

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In the 1985 version of “Brewster’s Millions” starring Richard Pryor and John Candy, Pryor inherits $300 million, but as a condition of accepting it he has to spend $30 million in 30 days.

As a way to spend the money quickly he jumps into a divisive political campaign for Mayor of New York City, but then encourages everyone to vote for “None of the Above” as he says none of the candidates are worthy of being elected. He withdraws his candidacy, and voters end up choosing “None of the Above,” forcing a new election.

In 2016, 25% of voters said they did not vote because they didn’t like the candidates or the issues. Other reasons include feeling like their vote won’t matter and not knowing the issues well enough.

Many of us were raised to believe that voting is a right and a responsibility, and teach our children the same lesson. Yet nearly half of the nation’s eligible voters, approximately 92 million, hardly ever vote. In Arlington, we have an especially high voter turnout, with goals of 90% this year, but who are the people who don’t vote?

Non-voters are diverse. Stephen Hawkins, More in Common’s global director of research noted that, “the Disengaged would look like a Greyhound Bus Station. There are right racists and black inner-city low-income folks.” Vote Like A Woman has focused their strategy around the fact that 1 out of 3 eligible women are not registered and 53% of chronic non-voters are women.

The solution may be complicated. A February 2020 Politico article highlighted the results of the Knight study, which “indicates that voting is a social behavior and that any effort to mobilize a significant number of chronic non-voters will require complex, long-term interventions and a more nuanced understanding of this poorly understood portion of our electorate.”

Political campaigns tend to focus their resources on frequent voters due to limited time and money, therefore exacerbating the feeling of “being left out” and discouraging many from voting. Vote Like a Woman’s strategy is to engage women both 1:1 and in groups, strive for creativity in reaching nonvoters, and be honest about our current political systems.

Voting is a function of several factors, and maybe we will never reach 100%, but we can become a stronger community by listening and attempting to address the concerns of non-voters. They may have a valuable perspective just by virtue of them being non-voters that could make our community even more inclusive, and help us reform our own local political system.

Tomorrow night I am bringing together Dr. Stephen J. Farnsworth, Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington; clinical psychologist Dr. Linda McGhee; and racial and gender justice organizer Krystal Leaphart to talk about how we can encourage more people to vote. Moderated by educator, consultant and radio host Kevin E. Boston-Hill, this session will also provide strategies to have these critical conversations. You can join this discussion “None of the Above” on Wednesday, October 28 at 6 p.m. on Facebook.

As of October 24, Arlington had surpassed 80,000 votes out of 178,532 registered voters, so we are well on our way to record turnout. It’s easy for us to laud ourselves for doing our civic duty and being responsible. Chances are we feel heard, engaged, and valued. In “Brewster’s Millions,” Pryor’s character tapped into a sentiment by addressing it head on. In Arlington, let’s boldly confront the issues that our nonvoters have and do more to listen to those who believe “None of the Above” is their only choice.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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