Those Turnout Blues

 

After nearly every election, there’s a wringing of hands over voter turnout, and this past week’s contests were no exceptions. Unlike Argentina and Brazil, for example, America does not require its eligible citizens to vote. As a result, presidential elections in our country generally feature voter turnout in the 50-60% range (sometimes a bit higher or lower), and off-year elections are typically significantly lower. Hence, we are getting the usual post-election moaning about how the results would have been different if only more [fill in the blanks] had turned up at the polls. In other words, we would have won if more people had voted for us. Duh!

I, for one, don’t worry too much about turnout. For example, Democrats whine that their natural constituencies are less likely to vote in off-year elections. So what does that mean? They haven’t heard about them? It’s hard enough to vote every four years, much less every two? They can’t find their polling places? Whatever the reasons, if someone doesn’t care to vote, that’s his business. If someone doesn’t care enough about the process or the candidates or the office to cast a ballot, does it really weaken us? Would we be better off to find ways to coerce or demand electoral participation?

In the last presidential election, some Conservatives expressed their  disdain for Mitt Romney by staying home and, in essence, expressing their opinion by not voting. It may have been cutting off a nose to spite a face, but the noses were theirs, and they exercised their right to sit on the sidelines. I, for one, have never participated in any “Get Out the Vote” TV ad campaigns. My personal opinion is that, if a game show host has to tell you to vote, you probably shouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for teaching young people the important connection between good citizenship and voting. We certainly should not impede anyone’s right to vote. (By the way, I don’t consider having to identify oneself to be an impediment.) And more power to the parties and their efforts to energize their bases. In a more perfect world, I suppose, everyone would study the issues and the candidates and take the time and make the effort to participate in elections. However, if some choose not to, so be it. It doesn’t make the results any less valid nor the country any less democratic. Want more of your “natural constituencies” to vote for you? Then give them some reasons to do so.

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  1. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Pat, I served for the first time as an election judge on Tuesday.  I can now say with certainty something I’ve always suspected.  A few less votes, will do us no harm.  We have no shortage of voters who do not know who is running, for what office, whether that office is a state or federal office (or that there’s any difference between the two), or why any candidate is running for anything or what he or she stands for.  I spent all day watching voters walk in with their cards (helpfully provided by an aldermanic employee illegally stationed at the polling place door) marked “Quinn” “Madigan” and “Durbin” etc.  I had to repeatedly explain to people that no, Obama was nowhere on the ballot this time.  I believe that Winston Churchill was right when he said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” but still, when observed at the granular level, it is not inspiring.  If a few more such people stay home, we’ll be none the worse off.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    To answer your post, I agree. No one should vote if they are not inclined to. I’m not big on getting out the vote in and of itself.

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    This is my viewpoint:

    People that don’t vote in elections either 1) don’t care who wins, 2) don’t like any of the candidates, or 3) simply just don’t want to vote for some other reason.

    By not participating, they are making a statement, we just don’t know what it is.  However, the people that do care enough about the outcome make their statement by voting, so the results are important no matter how small the turnout.  Trying to invalidate the vote based on a low turnout is intellectually dishonest, at least to me.

    One thing I will say is that people who don’t vote forfeit their credibility when they complain about the politicians elected, or the results.

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Pat Sajak: For example, Democrats whine that their natural constituencies are less likely to vote in off-year elections. So what does that mean?

    I posit that it means the Democrats’ natural constituencies, being a coalition of low-information voters and ultra-centralizers, think that the occupancy of the White House is the only political race that matters.

    They might not be wrong.

    • #4
  5. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    In a number of states, people who work for the state & federal government were given the whole day off on election day – why?  Because they’re all Democrats?

    • #5
  6. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    Hello Cato Rand,

    Thank you for your report on your stint as election observer.  For those like myself who have never done anything of the sort, would you describe how you obtained this position, what entity was your boss (the county?), what training They gave you, what responsibilities you had, and – a big one – how much police power you had?

    If you and your counterpart from the other party disagreed, who adjudicated?  And how long would that take?  Aldermanic employee doing illegal stuff? Everyone else cool with that?  “Kafkaesque!”

    It seems like it could be a dream job or a nightmare, yet possibly worth doing either way.

    My township has perhaps 3,000 people in it, so the main perks would be the cookies that the ladies bring in, and maybe free admission to the election night supper at one of the church halls.  The main downside would be frowns from people whose ancestors lived and farmed here, as mine did not.  Thirty-odd years’ productive residence might not cut it; a person might be getting above herself in making the attempt.  Still, it seems attractive, despite social hazards.  Your report, as one who has ridden into the Valley and returned, is appreciated.

    • #6
  7. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Mostly, not voting indicates that you’re not overly concerned with how your country is governed, and I do believe it’s tragic that so many don’t.  (I know some stay home in protest, but the protest isn’t communicated.  If there is really no difference, not even a message to send, writing in a candidate or even spoiling your ballot at least makes a point.)

    But I agree, I think my responsibility as a citizen is to cast an informed ballot, not just to vote because voting is good.

    If I were a Democrat, though, I’d be more concerned about low midterm turnout.  If people who are more engaged and thus vote in midterms lean Republican, that’s sort of embarrassing.

    • #7
  8. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Pat Sajak: Democrats whine that their natural constituencies are less likely to vote in off-year elections. So what does that mean? They haven’t heard about them? It’s hard enough to vote every four years, much less every two? They can’t find their polling places?

    Well, they’re too stupid to get a driver’s license, so yeah, probably so.

    If I may paraphrase Aaron Sorkin, “Anyone who is too stupid or apathetic to raise their hand, should just shut up.”

    • #8
  9. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    I would be content if the only citizens who voted were the ones who cared enough to spend a modicum of time understanding the issues and could explain the rationale for their vote.

    If you wanted to increase the percentage of Low Informational Voters then advocating mandatory voting would be the correct way to go about it.

    • #9
  10. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    jzdro,

    Well, first of all, I was in a very different locale.  Let’s just say I doubt they stock a lot of Republican ballots for the primaries in the precinct I worked.  And it was . . . how to best put this? . . . “urban.”  I know, I’m using code words that a liberal would call racist, but to be blunt I was in a neighborhood I’d never consider living in and wasn’t entirely comfortable even being in, especially after dark when the polls finally closed.  I’ve lived in Chicago for 25 years.  There are just parts of the city that are like that.  Having voted in my small hometown in Wisconsin when I was younger, I suspect the feel of the event would be different in what sounds like your small idyllic town than it was in the precinct I worked.

    As to how I got the gig, I was recruited by a Republican lawyer group who explained to me that it was a real challenge to get enough Republican judges to have one in each of the precincts in Chicago, and that the precincts that lacked Republican judges had a funny tendency to produce near 100% turnouts.  They said just having a Republican present would tend to prevent the Democrat judges from just running through straight (D) ballots for all the no shows registered in the precinct.  In other words, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  By law in Illinois, each major party is entitled to field half the judges if they can, so getting the gig as a Chicago Republican is pretty easy.  If you’re willing, breathing, and the election records show you picked up a Republican ballot in the last primary, you’re in.

    The training was one three hour class, run by the Chicago Board of Elections, along with a 90 page book to read.  I would say both were impressively thorough, clear and detailed, although there is enough complication to the equipment, rules, forms, and procedures that in practice, you just don’t get it all the first time you do it.  There’s just too much to learn and in practice, as a first time judge, you wind up deferring to the more experienced judges somewhat to know what needs to be done.  There’s just no alternative.  There is no “boss” per se.  The Board of Elections is in charge, and there’s some oversight from the State’s Attorney’s office.  Within the polling places though, the judges (generally 5) are in charge and all theoretically equal (with any disputes supposed to be handled by majority vote).  The two caveats are the ability to call downtown to the Board of Elections for help if you feel you need to, and the reality that the experienced judges get some deference simply because they understand all the rules, forms, procedures, etc.  There is an enormous amount of confusing paperwork involved in conducting and certifying the balloting.  If I’d had to do it myself with just the training and the book as a guide, I’d have gotten it right eventually, but I’d probably still be there.

    I’m struggling with your question about “police power.”  Judges do actually get a commission from the state court and I guess in theory have power over their little jurisdictions (the polling place and the no-electioneering zone 100 feet from the door).  In practice though, we’re not armed and aren’t interested in confrontation.  At least I wasn’t.  So it was very difficult in practice to do anything about our two determined lawbreakers.  I called downtown a couple of times and they sent out a guy called an “investigator” who told the miscreants to take down their signs and move outside the zone.  But as soon as the investigator left, they came back.  The guys sort of taunted me, took pictures of me, and I thought were basically being a bit threatening, and I very much felt like I was basically on their turf.  The cards they were handing out had been printed up by the local alderman’s office.  So there was only so much I was going to do.  Plus I was actually working — helping run the polls which were pretty busy basically all day — so I wasn’t even really free to just sit and watch them.  In short, I kind of gave up and let them do their politicking.  But it pissed me off.

    Oh and no, no one else seemed to care.  A lot of the voters seemed to think the cards were like “official” voting instructions.   They’d hand them in with their ballots and pens after they voted.  The whole thing just had a very rigged feel to me and while there were no other irregularities that I could identify, the problem of the two guys with the cards isn’t an open question.  The “no electioneering within 100 feet” law is very clear and unambiguous, the couple of times the investigator came out he agreed with me with no hesitation, and the guys were no more than 5-10 feet from the door essentially all day.  Like I said, it pissed me off.  But I comfort myself a little bit with the thought that at least the horror story of all the no show voters having ballots run through for them after the polls closed didn’t happen.

    • #10
  11. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Hmmmm…with a new Republican Governor, is there any chance some of those conditions might change?

    Here in WA, all our voting is done by mail, and nobody is waving signs near the ballot drop box (which is in a public park).  No electioneering at the Post Offices, either.

    • #11
  12. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    RushBabe49:Hmmmm…with a new Republican Governor, is there any chance some of those conditions might change?

    Here in WA, all our voting is done by mail, and nobody is waving signs near the ballot drop box (which is in a public park). No electioneering at the Post Offices, either.

    The City of Chicago is not governed from Springfield.  So, no.  None.

    • #12
  13. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    There’s nothing wrong with uniformed people not voting. In fact, I encourage it.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Pat Sajak: We certainly should not impede anyone’s right to vote.

    Unless, you know, if they’re dead.

    • #14
  15. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    • #15
  16. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    1) He, as an individual, may have the luxury of ignoring it all without it making a difference, but if we all follow his lead it does matter.  In a sense, his argument is selfish.

    2) Does he therefore undertake the rather more difficult task of informing himself on local issues, which are occasionally decided by very narrow margins — even, very occasionally, by a single vote?

    3) My vote is a tiny drop in a bucket.  I’m under no illusion that it makes much difference.  But it’s a drop that I have been given stewardship over — and so, like every other duty in life, it’s one that I’m obligated to fulfill to the best of my ability.

    • #16
  17. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    Leigh:3) My vote is a tiny drop in a bucket. I’m under no illusion that it makes much difference. But it’s a drop that I have been given stewardship over — and so, like every other duty in life, it’s one that I’m obligated to fulfill to the best of my ability.

    Hear, hear.  I live in Denver.  Every two years I dutifully vote for whichever sacrificial lamb the the GOP runs against Diana DeGette.

    • #17
  18. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    • #18
  19. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    No he wasn’t.

    • #19
  20. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    No he wasn’t.

    Yes he was

    • #20
  21. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    No he wasn’t.

    Yes he was

    No he wasn’t

    • #21
  22. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Yudansha:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    No he wasn’t.

    Yes he was

    No he wasn’t

    prove it

    • #22
  23. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    I linked to snopes.com.  Did you not believe them?

    • #23
  24. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    No I got my information from a book called “Hitler, God, and the Bible” written by Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye. The snopes piece sends you to a Dear Abby post. Yeah, I definitely believe that.

    • #24
  25. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    Plus that claim is that he was elected leader of the tiny Nazi party in its infancy in the early 20s.  Even if true, it would be kind of trivial.  I thought Cal was suggesting one vote made him Chancellor of Germany in ’33.

    • #25
  26. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    No I got my information from a book called “Hitler, God, and the Bible” written by Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye. The snopes piece sends you to a Dear Abby post. Yeah, I definitely believe that.

    So what, exactly, do they claim he was elected to by one vote?  Milk monitor in the 4th grade?  Or something historically meaningful?

    • #26
  27. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    No I got my information from a book called “Hitler, God, and the Bible” written by Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye. The snopes piece sends you to a Dear Abby post. Yeah, I definitely believe that.

    So what, exactly, do they claim he was elected to by one vote? Milk monitor in the 4th grade? Or something historically meaningful?

    Hitler was elected to the Nazi party in 1921 by one vote. He was appointed to the position of <(I’m doing this off of memory)> chancellor after his predecessor retired or died. At that point he was in charge of Germany’s governing body and proceeded ahead with his dictatorship to the slaughter of Jews and dissidents. And the rest is history. Maybe the book is wrong, but ‘ll take that over Dear Abby or some other internet plausibility.

    • #27
  28. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    No I got my information from a book called “Hitler, God, and the Bible” written by Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye. The snopes piece sends you to a Dear Abby post. Yeah, I definitely believe that.

    So what, exactly, do they claim he was elected to by one vote? Milk monitor in the 4th grade? Or something historically meaningful?

    According to Wikipedia, Hitler was elected to head the tiny Nazi party in 1921 with only one dissenting vote.  The “elected by only one vote” meme seems to be floating around in non-scholarly christian literature, but none that cites to any historical evidence that I’m finding with a quick search.  Looks to me as though someone in that semi-closed world made a sloppy error and it went viral in that community.

    • #28
  29. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Man With the Axe:What do you say to a person who argues that his vote doesn’t really count unless the election is decided by one vote? And further, that educating oneself about the issues and the candidates is an effort that is not rewarded by a sufficient payoff, since the election will turn out the same way whether his one vote is educated or ignorant?

    Adolf Hitler was elected by 1 vote.

    No he wasn’t.

    Yes he was

    Out of how many votes cast?

    • #29
  30. calvincoolidg@gmail.com Inactive
    calvincoolidg@gmail.com
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Cato Rand:

    Cato Rand:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    Yudansha:I linked to snopes.com. Did you not believe them?

    No I got my information from a book called “Hitler, God, and the Bible” written by Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye. The snopes piece sends you to a Dear Abby post. Yeah, I definitely believe that.

    So what, exactly, do they claim he was elected to by one vote? Milk monitor in the 4th grade? Or something historically meaningful?

    According to Wikipedia, Hitler was elected to head the tiny Nazi party in 1921 with only one dissenting vote. The “elected by only one vote” meme seems to be floating around in non-scholarly christian literature, but none that cites to any historical evidence that I’m finding with a quick search. Looks to me as though someone in that semi-closed world made a sloppy error and it went viral in that community.

    Wikipedia is about as accurate as they come, right? Why don’t you find something more substantial than a recent Facebook post and then get back to me Cato.

    • #30
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