The May primary is here and if national and local trends predict anything, too few people eligible to vote will go to the polls, especially to the primaries in non-Presidential election years.
The trend, which Portland University tracks via their “Who Votes for Mayor” project (whovotesformayor.org) has major implications, including creating government bias.
The project’s findings focus on mayoral elections, those regional elections that are easy to disregard as less important. The only Hoosier city they track is Fort Wayne, which in its last mayoral election had less than 10% of registered voters casting their vote. They hardly won the prize for the most missing in action voters. Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas tied for the lowest turnout with just 6% of their eligible voters turning up at the polls for mayor elections. That would be dandy if this were golf and low scores meant winning. Las Vegas had more people gambling money than electing a mayor when it tied with State College, Pennsylvania (home of Penn State). Thirty of America’s largest cities had less than 15% of eligible voters show up.
Maybe they all have citizens, as Crawfordsville does, who find it hard to put a better candidate than their current officials. Or, maybe we citizens still don’t recognize that our local councilors, mayors and trustees make most of the government decisions that directly and immediately affect our day-to-day lives.
It’s easy to get caught in the media blitz of national campaigns. (Aren’t we glad our local politicians don’t throw around campaign dollars like that?) Following only the presidential elections is like playing a version of “Who’s on first?” or who’s at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. When we ignore the whole game, all the positions, players and possibilities for the climactic crack of the bat, we forget it takes a team. Who gets the trash off the streets, ensures that traffic engineering reduces fatalities, makes our energy renewable and clean for the health and well-being of people with asthma and all that?
Here’s the Aha! Moment about not voting. Voters who don’t show don’t know they have biased the government to care most about those who cast votes. Voters-who-don’t-show hand over their voice to whichever demographic does vote. Not voting is self-inflicting a bias against ourselves.
The average age of voters is 14 to 16 years older than the median age of who can vote. Voters tend to have more education, more financial stability and more social capital, including being part of the dominant ethnicity in the area. Portland University’s data on Fort Wayne underscores this. Forty-two percent of actual voters were older than 65 years old, while only 7% were ages 18 to 34. The project’s map of who voted most in Fort Wayne showed that people in the newer burbs, the ones with the newer, nicer houses and the big Targets had more voters show up. Interestingly, the project reported that about 6% of Fort Wayne voters lived in a “voting desert,” where voters cannot easily access polling sites.
Meanwhile, trust in institutions, like government and democracy, has eroded. Author Yuval Levin opined in a 2018 New York Times column that “We trust political institutions when they undertake a solemn obligation to the public interest and shape the people who populate them to do the same ... We lose faith in an institution when we no longer believe that it plays this ethical or formative role of teaching the people within it to be trustworthy.” Levin noted that we have lost faith because of corruption, abuse of power, and more recently because the people leading institutions have used their prominence for self-promotion. It makes us wonder if anyone is ethical enough to keep our democracy.
“What have we got?” A lady supposedly asked Benjamin Franklin at the end of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and he replied “A republic, if you can keep it.” The line contains multitudes of meaning, one of which is that our form of government has never been guaranteed or given. Any person wise and schooled in human history can see that forms of government, including democracy, come and go. NPR reported April 20 about the many former Soviet Block countries that had once seemed to be building and entrenching democracy after gaining their independence in 1989. In the years since the Soviet Union ended, many have slid back into autocracy. The creep of autocracy came slowly. It can happen here if we don’t invest in it. For most of us, the investment is the time to research candidates and cast a vote. An hour or two each spring and fall.
This is why the League of Women Voters committed itself to voter education at its founding, and it continues to promote, educate and encourage voting in all elections. It is the drummer in the march to the polls, reminding everyone to stay on course, to vote out of conviction, and to believe in self-governance through actions. A government by the people and for the people means that everyone who can ought to be helped, encouraged, cajoled and celebrated all the way to the polling center, no matter how they chose to vote. And, they should have access to reliable sources of information about the candidates.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.
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