I just finished reading yet another whiny editorial from the Macon Telegraph complaining about the low voter turnout. Although the article was specifically about the recent runoff election a few days ago this really applies in all elections and all states. According to the article “618,237 of Georgia’s 4,933,572 (as of Nov. 26, 2013) decided to vote. A paltry 12.5 percent. In Bibb County there are more than 82,000 registered voters, but only 8,576 voted in the Republican and Democratic runoff elections.”
Similar numbers applied to other states as well. So I imagine you are wondering why I feel low voter turnout isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom indoctrinates us to believe it is a civic duty, our responsibilities as citizens..and run expensive ad campaigns with names like Get out the Vote and Rock the Vote with many famous celebrities encouraging us all to go to the polls.
The Macon Telegraph editorial even went all hellfire and brimstone with this line in particular.
“When we wonder why our republic seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, instead of pointing fingers at the politicians, we should look in our mirrors to see the real culprits. While the winners are certainly happy they won, the turnout has to leave a bitter taste in their mouths and have them second-guessing why they wanted to do all that for people who just don’t care.”
They try and use shame, fame, guilt, patriotism, and pride to get us to the voting booths to cast our ballot, but voter apathy has largely remained unchanged for decades. We were apathetic 42 years ago as well. The percentages are largely the same once you take into account there are a lot more people over the age of 18 ineligible to vote than in 1972 for example. Noncitizens and convicted felons are a much higher percentage of 2014 ‘Murica than the population in 1972. Once you remove those two cohorts, the percentages are roughly the same.
We could certainly increase voter turnout dramatically if we imposed a $100 fine like some countries and require mandatory voting or pay a fine. However we must remember that most countries unlike the U.S. only hold elections around once every 4 to 5 years at the most. Americans are asked not only far more frequently but for many more offices including dog catchers, coroners, and county clerks. We have tons of runoffs like the one that occurred this past week before we even get to the actual election.Americans it seems have to vote not only yearly it seems but many times in a given year.
Of course given how gerrymandered the entire country has become, the primaries or runoffs in most districts will usually decide the ultimate winner in many elections. But that is an issue I plan to address in more detail in a future article.
Another possible reason for apathy is all the negative ads. Here in Georgia you could not help to see them on TV with Perdue and Kingston bashing each other. In all reality their voting record would likely be identical no matter how hard they tried to stand apart. Negative ads will likely increase voter turnout among the politically engaged to a small degree, but for the larger population as a whole, negative ads simply reinforce negative stereotypes that people have about all politicians. Namely that one is a turd and the other is a douche. Now that is certainly true about many politicians but that is also true about any and all occupations outside of politics as well. Chances are whether you are a teacher, a factory worker, a doctor at a hospital, a claims rep at an insurance company, or any other job, you likely know a few turds and douches at work. Am I wrong?
Politicians are no different since they are us. Many that choose to run are good and decent people that sincerely want to make a positive difference and many others are egomaniacal assholes simply addicted to power, influence, and money. I think the ones that become career politicians can become corrupted and jaded after 12 or more years, which is why I support term limits. But most politicians at least begin their service with noble intentions to serve their constituents to the best of their ability and do not run for the sole purpose of becoming a corrupt asshole.
So get the point already…Why is low voter turnout a good thing?
I’m glad you asked. It boils down to something very simple. If you don’t care enough to vote, then there is a very large likelihood that you didn’t care enough to research the issues or candidates either. Do we really want more of these uninformed people, who for all intents and purposes are political zombies, just blindly pulling a lever when they have no idea who they are even voting for? Are these the people we want choosing our leaders when they don’t even know who they are voting for?
Perhaps others don’t vote because they are largely satisfied with the way things are going. There is nothing like anger and dissatisfaction to get people to the polls after all. People that are happy with the status quo simply do not feel the need to vote for change. When you try to increase turnout and bring in people without a strong interest in the business of government, you get random voting and that is not necessarily a good thing.
Moreover, if you want to be civic-minded, your duty isn’t to blindly fill in ballots just to fill in ballots. You shouldn’t do it from ignorance, out of emotion, or to win approval from your political friends. Your duty to vote should be to participate in a way that, at the very least, makes the outcome no worse and hopefully from an informed decision. Voter do not harm.
The ones least motivated to show up at the polls year in and year out also tend to be most poorly informed. They simply vote out of habit or obligation in many cases blindly voting all Republican or all Democrat when chances are if they knew the candidates and issues they would pick some candidates from both parties and possibly from third parties as well. So when turnout drops, it tends to leave the pool of remaining voters with an improved average level of political knowledge and policy know-how. So perhaps that paltry 12.5% of Bibb voters were our crème de la crème and it is a good thing people who had no idea who was even running let alone what they supported abstained.
My idea is something that will never happen in the United States but could solve pretty much all of our complaints in one fell swoop. When we go to the polls instead of having a choice of candidates, we are instead asked a series of questions on policy and issues. Perhaps it could be on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree like the question above about dogs or cats but instead ask about issues. The candidates could help formulate their key policy stances and approve the questions. Instead of voting for names, parties, looks, or personality we could vote on the one thing that actually matters which is our answers to policy questions. Yes, I realize this is a pipe dream. But I hope the next time someone brings up voter apathy, you politely let them know why that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Are You a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or None of the above?
Here are a few polls that will attempt to guess your political identity by simply answering a few questions. Let me know in the comments how accurate they were. Most people fall near the center or slightly to the left or right of the center. Talking heads on TV, radio, and politicians however seem oblivious to this fact given the extreme polarization. Even on issues where both parties largely agree to hear them talk they are at polar opposites over some really unimportant minutiae. Until we get term limits, less politically drawn districts as opposed to geographic districting that make elections instead of primaries important again, a strong third party, campaign finance reform, and figure out a way to curtail influence from any and all outside lobbying groups nothing will change. Mr. Gridlock has found a comfortable home in Washington D.C. and indeed all over the country and he has no intention of moving over for Mr. Compromise any time soon.