Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Is It Worth Voting?


Now that I've sworn off voting for the lesser of two evils, I'm still willing to go to great lengths to exercise my right to vote. I don't know if I'd ride down from the Hindu Kush to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on a horse again so I could do it, but even when I decided I couldn't vote for Obama in 2012, I still walked to my polling station so I could cast a protest vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

I believe in voting. I no longer believe in castigating Americans who look at our candidates and the inherent corruption of our political system and decide to not even bother. From the very beginning, American "democracy" was a flawed and ugly thing-- better than monarchy or theocracy but far from ideal. Ideal, though, is that our establishing documents left room for evolution, so that slow-thinkers-- or the regions they represented (primarily the South and New York)-- could eventually catch up with the latest ideas of the Enlightenment being put forth by men like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

I doubt we'll ever see a 99.97 turnout like North Korea just did, but America's real problem is that the heirs of the slow-thinkers from our constitutional debates are still determined to limit and roll back participation in democracy. For them, if we are forced into such a system to begin with, only white Christian males of substantial property should be allowed to participate. Or-- if it comes down to it-- only the rich regardless of the other crap. 

Yesterday Scott Clement, writing in the Washington Post, looked at why Americans aren't voting. North Korea may have been exaggerating, but in 2014 only 36% of eligible U.S. voters cast ballots, "5 points lower than in 2010 and the worst turnout rate since 1942." And "eligible" is a very key concept, which Clement doesn't dwell on in his piece.
Being "too busy" tops the list of excuses reasons, followed by general lack of interest, illness, being out of town, simply forgetting, and disliking the candidates or the issues. Few people blamed registration issues, inconvenience, transportation issues or bad weather.

While Americans reasons for not voting seem reasonable enough, they don't really explain exactly what made 2014 unique. The same Census survey in 2010 found non-voters gave almost the exact same reasons for casting ballots. In non-voters' minds at least, the reasons for not casting ballots were hardly exceptional despite the historically low turnout.

What is striking is that peoples' reasons for not turning out in 2014 are some of the same challenges governments and political campaigns are working to help voters overcome. A steady rise in the availability of early, absentee or mail voting would seem to help the nearly half of non-voters who cited reasons like being busy, out of town or simply forgetting.

Many people took advantage of those options, with over 3 in 10 voters in 2014 saying they cast ballots that way in the Census survey. But that seems odd; if early voting is becoming easier and more popular, why is turnout dropping with non-voters citing similar reasons of busyness and convenience?

Here's a simpler way to explain low turnout in 2014: Americans can overcome most of their reasons for not voting if they are actually motivated enough. But interest in the 2014 election was lower than previous years, according to Washington Post-ABC News polling. In a late October poll, 68 percent of registered voters said they were following congressional elections "very" or "somewhat" closely," down from 76 percent in 2010 and 78 percent in 2006. In 2012, fully 99 percent of voters were following the presidential election at least somewhat closely, and the share following "very closely" was more than double that of the midterm election (66 percent versus 25 percent).

When an election is extremely interesting and competitive, people find ways to take time from their busy lives and vote, and campaigns spend extra money to reach them. The low 2014 turnout may have just been too boring to bother with.



At 4:44 PM, Blogger Theodore Wirth said...

USA voters not motivated? Even those that are motivated are stymied. Mission accomplished y'all.

The best solution is a national voting holiday (never happen). The second best solution is that voting on every level is coordinated to occur on Saturday (never happen). The third best solution is bloody revolution (may happen if Murkan sheep can put down their TV remotes, cheap beer and burgers and manage to stagger out into the streets and fire their god-given guns at the proper oppressors).

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Richard Crews said...

IF the Dems lose a close one in 2016. YOU are to blame.


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