I'M A BIT FIXATED ON VOTER TURNOUT and how it reflects civic participation generally. As I noted in an earlier post (and according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate) Americans reached a pathetic new low this year when only 15 percent of us (eligible voters) showed up to vote in the primaries.
I thought that would be a bad omen for the November 7 turnout. Depending upon how you look at it, it was and wasn't. According to CSAE, 40.4 percent of eligible voters cast votes on November 7.
Notice I didn't say "only" 40.4, though I was tempted. CSAE points out, however, that this midterm election turnout actually exceeded that of 2002, when 39.7 voted.
So I suppose in some ways we should celebrate. We actually did better than last time. But isn't this like saying that instead of coming home with a D on our report card, we only had a C- this time? Where were the other 60 percent? Even in 2004, when nearly 60 percent of eligible voters cast votes, the largest turnout since 1968, where were the other 40 percent? We call this the greatest democracy in the world, but come on.
I was reminded of this when I was making voter turnout calls for the Maryland Democratic Party last week, two days before Election Day. While most of the people I spoke with were postive and sounded excited about going to the polls, many were annoyed by my calls. As you might expect I got hang-ups and angry responses, and a lot of people said they were feeling harrassed by the deluge of phone calls (most from the so-called "robo-calls" -- the automated calls from celebs and others with nasty, deceptive messages).
Pardon me if I show little patience for their "fatigue." Voter "burnout" is no excuse for lack of voter turnout.
First of all, it's not like anyone was trying to sell them aluminum siding or life insurance they don't need. This was for something much more important than all the other garbage calls they get (or used to before the Do Not Call list came around). So how about a little forebearance once every couple of years? Wouldn't kill you.
Second, going to the polls and voting has got to be the easiest of all acts of civic participation. Yes, showing up at town hall meetings, joining organizations, and keeping up on the doings of your representatives in City Hall, the State House or Congress takes time and energy.
But, at the very least, going to vote once every couple of years (or more frequently if your jurisdiction has off-year elections for other offices) is easier than going to the grocery story or filling up your tank at the gas station. Everything is there waiting for you. All you do is show up, maybe stand in line for a half hour or more (I know, there were glitches in some places, but that wasn't the norm) and then spending no more than five minutes checking off your choices. Sure, you have to spend a little energy reading newspapers to know who's on the ballot. But is that such an imposition? Are we really that checked out? Are we really that lazy? Do we really take democracy for granted that much?
I'm not sure what we can do to get more people to take this business of civic engagement more seriously. It's a long-term project, and it's certainly something that will come as people begin to feel that they have more say in how the system works.
But, then again, if you never show up and cast a vote, you never will have any say, will you?