Thursday, September 14, 2006

Voter Turnout?

New York State had its primary this past Tuesday. Turnout was reported to be light. But, light is an understatement.

Today the official word is that only 5.5% of *registered* Republicans turned out to vote. The turnout for Democrats was higher - somewhere between 11% and 15%, according to the Times Union.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in turnout is the number of high-profile contested races. For Republicans only the U.S. Senate seat was contested. The race between John Spencer and K.T. McFarland was at times really nasty. But, that was about it for Republican voters. For Democrats, there were contests for several offices, including Governor and U.S. Senator.

But, still: 5.5%? What kind of democracy do we have when such tiny slivers of the population turn out to vote during the primaries?

The primaries were established in the early 1970s to encourage a more democratic process for identifying who a party's nominee would be. Before that, most states' parties selected their leaders through back-channel and private negotiations - imagine the smoke filled room in the back of a bar somewhere with guys sitting around a table deciding who would be the nominee.

But, the revised primary system has failed to do what it aimed to do. With only an average of about 15% of registered voters of a party turning out to vote on a given election, it is still a thin slice of the electorate who is selecting their party's nominee. And, this is not a random sample of the electorate who turns out. People who vote in primaries are more ideological, better educated, and more knowledgable about the political process, the candidates, and current events - sort of like the old days with the men in back rooms picking the candidates.

I'm not sure there is a way to fix this broken system, and perhaps it's okay that such a small percentage of the people turn out. At least the primary system allows those who want to have a say to have one. The rest can stay home as they always have.

[The question mark at the end of this blog post's title is a nod to John Stewart, who last night, on the Daily Show, had a terrific piece about titles on the crawlers of CNN and Fox News. Why say it when you can ask it?]


Joe Erjavec said...

Hey Jen,

We voted in our primary here in Minnesota. The state's turnout was a measly 13.2%. I think it is sad that so few people are involved with the political process.

On the Faux News on Stewart last night, I totally lost it! That was one of the funniest things I've seen on the show in a while! Very poignant!


TRH said...

Part of the problem is that we vote on weekdays in the US - thus a lot of working folks are disenfranchised by circumstance. If you're working two jobs (as for example my factory-working dad did), you may not have any time or energy to get to the polls.
A solution: as in many European contries, hold elections on the weekends, - or make election days paid holidays.

Circe said...

I agree with trh; the system is basically set up to look like it's democratic, but the times are just not realistic for people. Then , we have the new stuff about the identification to further make it impossible for people to vote. I vote for weekends, as well as weekdays, and we should also make it into a process that takes several days instead of this crap where we rush and try to guess. If we took some time, let people have their chance to vote, then we might override the two main causes of voter apathy--feeling like one's vote is meaningless and not really understanding the system.

I feel like the primaries are very vague events. People don't know the meaning, and I think that's done on purpose; I think that the powers that be play them down, and so people don't realize the power they can have before November.

Oh, and the Daily Show was one of the best. I love Stewart; I really do. If I wasn't in love with my partner, I would go after him because he may be a true soulmate.

Jenny S-G said...

The weekday elections in the U.S. are definately a hindrance. I did a study awhile back on internet voting and voting preferences in general. People who work multiple jobs, who have children, or who commute long distances definately would prefer alternative ways to vote.

I am certain there were people who would have liked to vote last Tuesday, but because polls didn't open until noon couldn't. I had to hang out and work from home until noon on Tuesday so I could vote, because I teach Tuesday nights and wouldn't get home in time to vote.

There have to be better ways to do this.

Joe Erjavec said...

One item that we as Minneapolis voters will consider in November is to establish Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for some races. One possible advantage of IRV is to put more weight on the general election because of the low turnout in primaries.

Here's more info about it.