AMERICAN DEMOCRACY is getting there, but — forgive the cynicism — I don’t feel it gathering steam, at least not when I read the dismal voter turnout numbers.
According to statistics compiled by Dr. Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor of Government and Politics in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, at least 41.5 percent of America’s voting-eligible population* voted in the November 2 midterm elections across the U.S. just a few days ago. (“At least” because he may update the figures as recounts come in, which will probably only drive up the turnout rate, but only a tiny bit.)
That’s a slight improvement over the 40.4 percent turnout during the 2006 midterm elections, which was itself better than 2002 midterms, when 39.5 percent cast votes. So we’re headed in the right direction.
What’s more, 36 out of the 51 states or jurisdictions (that’s D.C.) saw increases in the percentage of voting eligible who voted this year. I’m not sure that’s better than previous years, but it bodes well that we’re seeing some measure of improved voting participation in most places.
By the way, if you’re from Oregon, you can be proud that your state led all others with a whopping 56.9 turnout. Minnesota was a tick behind with 56.8 percent (which was down from Minnesota’s rate of 60.1 percent in 2006). The District of Columbia, at 29.7 percent, brought up the rear, as it did in 2006, but actual states like New York (34.1 percent) and Utah (34.3 percent) can’t claim to have done much better.
Sure, it’s encouraging to see the numbers edging up, if only in such small increments. And a much more in-depth review of the numbers and the circumstances in each jurisdiction will help us understand why they went up. (Was it the momentum the Tea Party? Jon Stewart? Fox News? A nation restive during an economic downturn? Better voter education? More money for campaigns? “Walking around money,” as campaign strategist Ed Rollins once called it? We can argue this forever.)
Still, for me it’s hard to get excited when fewer than half of those eligible to vote actually exercise the precious privilege of the franchise – or even 61.6 percent, which is how many voted in the 2008 Presidential election, a high, but not record, year. I've written about this belore (see this and this). Once again, my feeling is that the U.S. fancies itself as the world’s leading democracy, but way too many of us can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to live out the true meaning of that status.
*McDonald defines voting eligible as “the population that is eligible to vote,” as opposed to the “voting-age population” which includes “persons who are ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens, felons (depending on state law), and mentally incapacitated persons.”