Participation In The Voting Process
Who is to blame for low voter turnout?
It is often said that we in America do not have government by the majority – we have a government by the majority who participate. And it’s true.
Aside from the important question of why so many don’t vote and, in turn, hand over the decision-making – their very destiny – to the many others who do vote (but often don’t have everyone’s best interests in mind), the more critical question may be, “Is there anything we can do about it?”
Would voter participation rates increase if states made it easier to register to vote? Not necessarily, as today, more people are registered to vote than ever before. What if states made voting more convenient regarding the number of voting days and times of day? Apparently not, because there are more early voting days than ever before, and voting by mail has increased exponentially since the pandemic.
OK, what about making the ballots less confusing and easier to read? Again, this likely doesn’t have a significant impact as many states are already requiring ballot initiatives to be written in “plain English” (instead of a bunch of gobbledygook legalese), and actually, ballot design is more straightforward and more usable, not to mention more accessible to people with disabilities, than ever before.
So what gives? Why did the midterm voter turnout decrease in 2022 (compared to 2018)? Why the widespread decline in eight states – Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Arkansas, Indiana and Alabama – that had voter turnout rates below 50% (when averaged between the last two national elections)?
And why, here in Louisiana, where we just had every statewide office and every seat in the Louisiana Legislature on the ballot this past Saturday, was the Secretary of State’s office predicting no more than 46% of voters would cast their ballots (which is down from about 5% in prior years). It wasn’t just a turnout issue on election day, though, as there was also an 8% dip in early votes cast this gubernatorial election cycle compared to the 2019 governor’s race.
Some folks say it’s because Louisiana voters weren’t excited about the governor’s race this year, a feeling of inevitability that Jeff Landry would be governor anyway. That may be why turnout, especially among Democratic voters, was lower than expected, leading to the lowest Louisiana voter turnout in the last 20 years.
Dr. Robert Collins, a professor of public policy and urban studies at Dillard University in New Orleans, explained the lower voter turnout this way: “Louisiana politics are supposed to be fun. This gubernatorial campaign year is just not fun. People in Louisiana like their politics hot and spicy, like their food. You’ve got to get people excited.”
Well, if having “fun” or “spicy” politics in Louisiana all these years has put us at the top of nearly every list you wouldn’t want to be on and at the bottom of almost every list you would like to be on, maybe Louisianans need to rethink what’s more important in our politics – education or entertainment, sincerity or soap-opera, results or ridiculousness.
While I’d like to point to voting as our civic duty, there is no compulsory requirement to vote in this country. Although millions of Americans have sacrificed their lives to protect this privilege, you don’t have to vote if the campaigns aren’t “fun” for you or you aren’t excited about the candidates or the issues.
And if that describes you, maybe you shouldn’t be voting. Voting for the sake of voting or because you like “spicy” politics isn’t enough. Your privilege to vote also comes with the responsibility to become educated, as much as possible, on the issues and about the candidates. Admittedly, that sometimes isn’t “fun,” at all.
So, blame lower voter turnout on the candidates? Apparently. Most election officials say turnout isn’t their problem. In Tennessee, for example, the Secretary of State’s office says low voter turnout in their state is due to a lack of competitive races. “Competitive races drive turnout, not the referees. Tennessee has not seen as many competitive statewide races.” In West Virginia, the Secretary of State there said it’s not his job to increase turnout. “It’s my job to run a free, fair and clean election.” In Alabama, the Secretary of State argued the same: “Our job is not to turn people out. That is the job of the candidates – to make people excited to go to the polls.”
If that’s true, consider all the quotations from great thinkers that may need to be slightly modified to keep up with the times. “The ballot is stronger than the bullet” (by Abraham Lincoln) would be amended to also say “only if the ballot is entertaining.” Or what about “Voting is the foundation stone for political action” (by Martin Luther King Jr.) being edited to include “only if it’s spicy.” Or how about “Someone struggled for your right to vote; use it” (by Susan B. Anthony) would be changed to include “only if it’s fun.”
If so, we’ll soon have to remember that in America we do not have government by the majority – we have government by the majority who are entertained.
You know, in the words of Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.