The vote at work

On Election Day, I was on my way back to Pittsburgh from an all-day company meeting in Cleveland and in a race to get to the polls. I arrived 12 minutes before eight, with just enough time to park, run into the church and cast my ballot.

Most people, however, didn’t make it. For a long list of reasons offered by the experts and analysts, there was a miserably poor turnout at the polls.

This year, people could come up with plenty of reasons for not voting. There wasn’t much of a campaign, most of the contests were for local offices, people were distracted by the economy, the terrorist attacks, anthrax powder in the mail, safety concerns for their kids on Halloween.

About the only thing that couldn’t be faulted was rain. There wasn’t any.

This occurs in a year when our institutions are being challenged and threatened in ways most of us could not even have imagined. I’ll just say Sept. 11 and be confident that it serves as shorthand.

So why is it that so many people get the symbolic importance of hanging a flag from their car antenna but miss the substantive significance of going to the polls to preserve the things we value?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that a general indifference toward civic duty scares me almost as much as the prospect of a terrorist tossing a bomb into a shopping mall or a subway tunnel. I really believed the population would be motivated to get involved in the democratic process this year.

I regret that I was wrong.

So what can business owners do? Well, look at the contributions businesses have made when it comes to organizing fund-raising efforts among their employees and helping out in the community, encouraging workers to get involved in events like the United Way’s Day of Caring and other charitable causes. When people at the top get involved and encourage their workers to do the same, things happen.

If employers put a little bit of effort into getting their employees interested in the political scene and, in turn, to the polls, it could be a victory for democracy. A little one, maybe, but an important one.

I suggest that next spring, before the primary elections roll around, business owners undertake a campaign to get their employees interested in the process. Maybe some of them will be motivated to go to the polls.

And pray for rain. That way, if there’s a poor turnout, I’ll have something to blame it on besides voter apathy.

Ray Marano ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.