Twenty-six percent: That’s the share of eligible voters who turned out last Tuesday in Virginia, where the weather couldn’t have been nicer, to exercise their right to have a say in who represents them in local districts and on school boards. The turnout was even worse in New Jersey, where a mere 20.8% (“The lowest turnout in N.J. history”, screamed a headline) showed up at the polls.
New Jersey’s and Virginia’s turnouts each were less than half that of several districts in Washington state, where as many as 54.36%, 57.42% and 60.49% of eligibles cast a vote. Those counts compare to the 68.3% who participated in Canada’s recent national elections. And while those Canadian turnouts were the highest in recent years, even 68.3% pales in comparison to the 79+% who showed up at the polls there on a couple of mid-1960’s years.
Canadian voters this time around defied the odds — and prognosticators — by pushing into power a new prime minister, a Liberal son of a former prime minister — Justin Trudeau is the son; Pierre was his father — whose party was not expected to win the election. As a television report noted (see embedded video), some 70% of those polled before the voting were anxious for some change, but maybe not this much — a dramatic shift from the Conservative to the Liberal party — surprised most everyone.
By way of comparison, the turnout in the UK general election in May of this year was 66.1% — impressive, but still a good deal short of the 78.8% who turned out in 1974 or the 78.7% who voted in 1959.
Even the UK’s highest-turnout years are sad showings compared to the likes of Belgium, where 87.2% turned out last time around, or Turkey’s (86.4%) or Sweden’s (82.6%) latest counts as a percent of eligible voters — the standard measurement.
But put the first two of those in perspective: Voting is ‘mandatory’ in both Belgium and Turkey — as it is in 26 other countries around the world.
Perhaps there’s something to that idea.
Then again, Americans are wed to the concept that voting is a ‘right’, a ‘privilege’, not, necessarily, a responsibility. We also are tied to having voting done on Tuesdays. That can serve as a convenient excuse for many to not break away, if only for a few minutes, to visit their polling place and place a vote. Tuesdays also can be a terrible inconvenience for many would-be voters.
Historically, Tuesday was selected as voting day because, when that day was first selected in 1845, “We were an agrarian society; We traveled by horse and buggy; Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship; So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day; So Tuesday it was,” we’re told by WhyTuesday.org. ” In 1875 Congress extended the Tuesday date for national House elections and in 1914 for federal Senate elections,” that website adds.
Well, ours is not an agrarian society anymore — and it hardly takes ‘a day out and a day back’ to cast a vote, though a lot of people do spend relatively short amounts of time in their polling district during most polling hours because they commute to a job site somewhere else.
But that’s changing: Ours is becoming, more and more, a society of work-at-home self-employed people — as opposed to employees who occupy a desk or work station miles, even hours, from home. A population that, when you get right down to it, might find it more convenient to vote on, say, a Saturday rather than a Tuesday.
That — to move our nation, and hopefully individual states and localities to Saturday rather than Tuesday voting — is the aim of the Why Tuesday organization. Theirs is a worthy cause of the emotional and financial support of everyone able to offer one, the other, or both.
As a reporter for my local weekly newspaper, I attended a meeting last evening of my county’s school board. One of the board members expressed concern at the “appallingly low” level of voter participation in last week’s election. Particularly, he noted, “on a day that couldn’t have been nicer.” (Pert near quoted myself there!)
He didn’t propose a solution. I am doing so — with a two-part suggestion:
 Voting should be done, rather than on Tuesdays, on Saturdays — or over a two-day period, say Friday and Saturday;
 Voting, like virtually everything else in today’s society, might be sponsored: A voter might be given a choice of, say, a $5 Walmart gift card or one of similar value from McDonald’s, Starbucks or another popular retail space. Municipalities could — and perhaps should — compensate the retailer for 20% of the value ($1 of $5) of such a gift card for every one redeemed.
Sure, it’s a bribe. Sure, the idea borders, but only barely, on the idea that votes are being ‘bought’: They are not being bought for any specific candidate, or referendum, or other ballot item. The ‘bribe’ is to encourage people to do what they ought to be doing anyway: Voting.
No one would force a gift card or other enticement (which might include an ‘I Voted’ T-shirt sponsored by assorted local businesses, at an extremely low (advertising) cost to each) upon any individual voter. The incentive would simply be presented as a reminder, a suggestion, an encouragement, an embarrassment, perhaps, for those who, for whatever reason did not take tie initiative to vote — serving, instead, serve as a devilment to the ‘neither of the above’ non-voters.
This country’s electoral process sucks. In the eyes of the public, it’s strongly biased (one way or another, depending on one’s perspective), and, truly, it’s broken.
People in general are fed up with over-aggressive, often-untruthful political advertising. They’re also fed up with knowing — not just imagining — that political races are won by those with the deepest pockets — meaning, in essence, the most lobbyist-based support.
The system needs to, has to, and will change. Will it do so soon enough to benefit you — to influence who represents you locally, at the state level, and in Washington? You can push for that change, though involvement in groups such as WhyTuesday.org — and by simply talking to people, encouraging them to vote.
A house near where I live is occupied by a mother-son pair who don’t work, have (self-stated) mental issues, and, more than likely, wouldn’t even think of voting. Yet they live on public money, and whatever publicly-supported services they may need and receive. The United States has an alarming number of such people with addresses from which they can vote. Yet few do — sometimes putting the services they depend on at risk.
Those people, like all of your neighbors (in the broadest sense), need you to both vote and encourage others to do so.
That, like voting, is a right, responsibility, and a privilege.
Please checkout Commotion In The Pews, an eclectic blog by a brilliant (ex-Naval Intelligence) guy with a fascinating range of interests and a hobby being Santa, wherever he’s invited, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Some of what Joe Courtemanche writes about probably won’t excite you, but at the very least, you more than likely will be impressed by his common sense, and the way he tells his tales.
And on my behalf, please pass on news of this blog to everyone you think might find it interesting. We cover an assortment of issues, most of which, in one way or another, concern – or should concern – a broad swath of the population, in the U.S. and elsewhere.