October 28, 1998

Do you ever think Washington has lost touch with the issues you care about? Believe me, I know how you feel.

Here's a simple way to make things better: Vote.

If you care about the kind of schools your children attend, if you are concerned about whether Social Security and Medicare will survive into the 21st century, or if you think the quality of your health care is important, you should vote. If you care about crime, the effects of tobacco on your children's health or whether Americans have access to affordable, quality child care, you should vote.

It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 85. It doesn't matter if you live in a big state or a small state, the North or the South. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent. If you care about the issues that affect Americans and their families, you should vote on Nov. 3.

As I travel around the country, I meet lots of people who are fed up with Washington. They say, "I care about my kids' schools. I care about health care, Social Security and the environment. But my vote doesn't matter. Those politicians in Washington don't pay attention to me."

I disagree. Every voter has the power to make America's leaders stand up and pay attention.

Citizen participation is the oxygen of our democracy. Our founding fathers fought and died for our right to vote. Yet, today, Americans go to the polls in smaller numbers than the people of any other advanced democratic nation.

In 1994, only 12 percent of first-time voters, ages 18 to 19, cast ballots. In the last Presidential election, fewer than 50 percent of those who registered voted.

Last month's turnout for the primaries was even more dismal. In the 36 states that held statewide contests, only 18 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Sixteen states saw participation fall to record lows.

This raises two questions: Why is it happening, and does it matter?

Does low voter turnout matter? Can your vote have an impact on what happens at your local school board, on your city council, in your statehouse or even in Washington? You bet.

Your vote affects not only the outcome of decisions that are made by elected officials but even whether an issue like child care or Social Security ever makes it to the table.

Why has our voter turnout fallen so dramatically in recent decades? Interviews with non-voters tell us there are a number of reasons they don't vote, including stress, lack of time and a disenchantment with politics that ranges from mere irritation to outright anger and alienation.

Several political observers also point to television, which eats up huge chunks of our free time, isolates us in our homes and increases pessimism among those who watch it. Sadly, as the influence of television on politics increases, grass-roots citizen participation decreases.

If our democracy is to thrive -- indeed survive -- in the 21st century, we must seize the opportunity to reverse this trend.

When I hear the statistics of how few Americans actually go to the polls on Election Day, I often think of the brave men and women who endured years of contempt and derision in the struggle to bring the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. What would Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton say today if they were to learn how many women in this country don't vote?

A few years ago, I saw a poster I'll never forget. On it was a picture of a woman with a piece of tape covering her mouth. The caption read, "Most politicians think women should be seen and not heard. In the last election, 54 million women agreed with them."

This year, I hope that all women -- and men -- will make sure their voices are heard.

The choices we face on Election Day are too important to cede to a few. They are not just about who will sit on our school boards and on our city councils, in our state attorney's offices and in our governor's chairs, in our statehouses and in our halls of Congress. The choices we make are not just about whether Democrats or Republicans win more seats.

The choices we make are about our schools, our economy and our environment. They're about our children's security. Our choices are not just about honoring the past. They are about ensuring the future.

On Nov. 3, don't let someone else make your choices for you. Vote.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at