This is written by John Merrow, former Education Correspondent for PBS Newshour. This article can be found in his blog, The Merrow Report. 

With the presidential election less than 8 months away, the mainstream media is still treating it as a horse race, scrutinizing polls and interviewing so-called experts about Biden’s age and Trump’s rambling instead of contrasting the candidate’s positions on important issues. The success of the President’s State of the Union speech may change the narrative, but odds are the press will soon revert to its superficial coverage, sadly.

I want to call your attention to one issue that the ‘horse race’ approach misses: the 80 million or so eligible adults who did NOT vote in 2020.    Even though voter turnout in 2020 was the highest since 1900, roughly one-third of those who were eligible to vote did not.  

Think of it this way:  That group (call it Did Not Vote, or “DNV”) would have finished a close second in 2020:  In First Place, Joe Biden, 81,000,000, followed by DNV with 80,000,000 votes. And in third place, Donald Trump, with 74,000,000 votes.

Who knows the reasons? Perhaps people who make up the DNV weren’t registered, perhaps they were indifferent or too busy, or perhaps obstacles were placed in their way. 

While both political parties are reaching out to those in the DNV in hopes of garnering their support, you can get involved from your home, writing postcards or making phone calls.  It’s easy to connect with organizations that do this regularly, like Postcards to Voters.  The single best source of information for people who want to get involved is the Chop Wood, Carry Water blog, written by a human dynamo named Jessica Craven.  I am in awe of her, to be honest.

I have one other suggestion:  Because the votes of young Americans are likely to decide who wins in November, Consider writing to the young people in your own world.  I’ve been doing that, and below is the template of the letter I’ve sent out.  Feel free to copy/change/write your own, but please act now.

Dear xxx

May I bend your ear about politics?  I gather from our occasional conversations that you are pretty down on our 2-party system and our economic system generally. I understand your being dissatisfied with our economic system, because it so clearly favors the rich and punishes those without money and inherited social status.  Recent headlines reinforce the point once again: Black women in New York City are nine times more likely to die in childbirth as white female New Yorkers, and that’s largely because of their socio-economic status, which is unfortunately closely correlated with race.  Systems that are weighted against non-white and non-wealthy can be found in other countries, but ours seems wildly out of whack.  

The American 2-party system is a different issue, in my view.  We’ve often flirted with third party candidates, usually with unfortunate results.  For example, in 2000 about 90,000 voters in Florida voted for the third-party candidate Ralph Nader, and George W. Bush ended up winning Florida (and therefore the Presidency) by 570 votes!  There’s no doubt that most of those 90,000 Nader voters were Democrats, meaning their decision to vote for Nader cost Al Gore the Presidency.  Because we got Bush instead of Gore, we ended up in a disastrous war in Iraq, tax breaks for the rich, a ‘War on Terror’ that actually created more enemies for the US, truly horrible policies in education, and more.  Those voters who chose Nader to protest their dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans may have felt virtuous, but they did immeasurable damage to the country.

Today there are a bunch of third-party candidates, including RFK, Jr, an anti-vaxxer who apparently would also end support for Ukraine; Cornel West; Jill Stein, and some others. While none of these candidates will become President, their voters may put Donald Trump back in the White House.  If he wins, 2024 may be our last free election, because Trump led an insurrection to keep himself in power in 2020, strong evidence that, in the future, he will do whatever is necessary to stay in power forever.

Perhaps you and some of your friends are considering NOT voting as a way of protesting against our system. Perhaps you and your friends feel that not voting is ‘a courageous statement,’  ‘a brave moral stance,’ or  ‘a strong message to a corrupt system.’  I would argue to the contrary: By not voting you would be rendering yourself invisible; you would be silencing your own voice, a form of self-marginalization. Basically, you would be allowing your future to be determined by other people.  

So please consider these three actions:  1) Register to vote if you haven’t already done so; 2) Urge at least 10 of your friends to register to vote; and 3) Please don’t sit out this election. Vote in November!  

I am NOT asking you to vote for Democrats, but to vote for candidates who support the issues you care about.  I hope you will look at the records of the men and women running for office.  Do they support a woman’s right to choose? Do they support higher taxes on the rich? Measures that will reduce the impact of climate change? Universal health care?  More support for public transportation and public education? A sensible policy on immigration?  And so on.   


(Uncle/Grandpa/Neighbor) John

Thanks for reading. 

John Merrow

former Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour

My blog: The Merrow Report