Voter turnout is on the decline. We hear that a lot, every election the news anchor tells us about the low voter turnout. But so what right? Why does it matter?
Impact of Low Voter Turnout on Policy
Low voter turnout can lead to bad policy. If very few people vote, there is a very low chance that those in office will be voted out of office, regardless of what they do while they are in office.
Bad policy is not the political career ender that it once was. Most eligible voters don’t even realize that there is a bad policy. Many of those who realize that the policy is bad, don’t go to the polls to hold officials accountable.
Examples of this can be found in the many members of Congress who have been implicated in various scandals and still remain in office. If officials feel that there will be no repercussions from the voters for their bad behavior and bad policy, there is no incentive for them to do better.
Are We Really Getting The Best Candidate For The Job?
With a low voter turnout, it doesn’t take many votes to get elected. A very simple example would be if 20 voters turned out to vote, it would take only11 votes for someone to get elected. If most eligible voters did not actually want this candidate, it would not matter because they did not cast their ballot.
The wrong candidate can do a lot of damage from a position of power. Once he is in there, there is little anyone can do about it. Impeachment is rare, most of the time there is nothing to do but wait for the next election.
If the only people who vote are ones who are friends of the candidates and people who have worked to get the candidates elected, then our elections are really just a measure of who has more friends, not who can do the best job or who has the best ideas. It is a popularity contest.
Non Presidential Years
Voter turnout in the 2004 election was 64% of adults, according to the US Census bureau. In 2002, a non Presidential election year, only 37% of adults came out to the polls (according to the Office of Election Assistance.) This shows that many people do not vote unless it is a presidential election year.
Who we elect to other positions is just as important as who we send to the White House. So what is the impact of all this? The minority who remain active in politics in non Presidential election years can place whomever they choose into Congress or other offices without much trouble. This happens under the radar and most people don’t even notice it.
We are very likely to end up with people in office who do not represent the interests of everyone, just those who helped get them elected.
This low turnout is magnified in local elections. Local officials operate rather anonymously without much voter scrutiny. They pass ordinances and make deals without much attention to their actions.
Is It Really Democracy?
If only a few are casting ballots, at what point is it no longer a democracy? We are a country where every adult citizen over 18 has the right to vote regardless of religion, race, gender or wealth. If we don’t exercise that right, we are leaving the decision of our government to others. Citizens leaving the decision of who governs and what those officials do for other people to make is a risk for our democracy.
In a democracy, citizens have more than a right to vote. In order to protect our democracy, we have a duty to inform ourselves about the issues and the candidates and then vote to voice our preferences. By leaving the decision to others we are condemning ourselves to live by their decisions and their rules.
What Can We Do?
Each person should read the papers, go online, whatever they can to learn about what the issues are and where the candidates stand on those issues. We should look past the personal attacks and character assassinations. (Who of us could withstand that kind of scrutiny and come out clean, we all have things we would rather not have as public knowledge.) We should make an informed decision and then go to the polls and formalize our decision.
If we know someone who does not know how to register to vote or where to vote, we should show them how and encourage them to vote. If someone says to you “Why bother, it doesn’t matter anyway.” You can try to change their mind or tell them “Do it anyway, just in case it does matter.” That way you can encourage them to vote without having to argue with them about whether their vote matters or not.
Register to vote at Rock The Vote: http://rockthevote.org