Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2002 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
But all the flop sweat over turnout is silly. Sure, the parties want their base to vote because this is a close election. But there is no reason to believe that low voter turnout is a bad thing in general. People show up to vote when they are inspired -- either by the charisma (or repellant nature) of a particular candidate or by an issue they think isn't being addressed by the status quo. And many Americans vote because they believe it is their civic duty.
Some important issues face the voters this mid-term election season -- war, homeland security and the economy. This makes it all the more frustrating to political commentators on the right and left who are predicting a turnout as low as 40 percent nationally. This is not to say that parties aren't right to fret about turnout, especially in a year when control of both houses of Congress is up for grabs. "Close Election Turns on Voter Turnout" screamed a headline in Monday's Washington Post. "Mid-Terms Hinge on Voter Turnout" according to the Boston Globe. You don't say.
The idea that Americans aren't making their views known or are disengaged is ludicrous. There was a big voter turnout in Louisiana when David Duke was on the ballot. The people rose up. Across America, turnout this year promises to be high in certain states and localities -- in South Dakota (because it's a Bush v. Daschle proxy) and in little places like Calvert County, Maryland where the turnout might be as high as 71 percent because of hotly contested races for sheriff and county commissioner.
If an American over the age of 18 chooses not to vote, we should presume he or she just didn't think there was enough at stake. It doesn't mean the country is going to hell in a hand basket. In fact, it probably means that things are going reasonably well. Well enough not to upset the status quo.
It is true that more people might be motivated to head to the polls if Democrats and Republicans devoted more time to addressing some of the big issues or if they offered some bold solutions to the problems confronting the country. Neither side is really telling us how to deal with the millions of illegals here or how to find the 300,000 who have been ordered deported. Neither side wants to be specific about meaningful tax reform. Democrats don't want to risk questioning how our military is being strained by the ever-expanding war on terror.
No doubt Dems remember the electoral pain of 1994 -- a payback for Hillary Healthcare. Ditto for Republicans' Congressional losses in 1996 -- a payback for Gingrich's role in shutting down the government.
Nationwide efforts are underway to make voting easier, less of a burden. Nationwide there are more allegations of voter fraud. The two are undoubtedly related. Every time you take down a barrier to vote, it makes it easier to commit fraud.
In California, where everyone wants to vote for no one in the governor's race, voters will decide on Proposition 52, which would allow Californians both to register to vote and cast their ballots on election day (Minnesota has a similar system already in place). Just what we need-a new law that will ensure that poll workers are more overwhelmed and voters more confused.
Some who wail about low voter turnout claim that the "will of the people is being thwarted" or "the people aren't being heard." Again, there is little evidence of this. Look at how the Dems lined up behind the Administration on Iraq -- do you think they weren't listening to the "will of the people" as reflected in countless public opinion polls on the subject? Ditto for the Administration's eventual turnaround on the Enron debacle -- President Bush couldn't ignore the polls forever. The public demanded a firm Administration response. The Administration gave it to them.
People vote when they feel like they need to vote. It should require a bit of an effort. Why is democracy enhanced by encouraging the truly disengaged to vote? Why should we really be concerned about being governed as result of the votes of those who are truly motivated and interested in what's happening around them?
As with everything on our "to do" lists, we weigh the inconvenience
against our other obligations, values and concerns. That, in and of
itself, is very American.
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10/30/02: Hell, no they won't go!