Anemic Primary Election Turnout and Voter Choice

Did you vote in the most recent primary election? No? Sadly, you’re not in the minority.

Here is something to think about…

The general tenor of our society today of rampant polarization, impatience, meanness, and selfishness reflects the character of far too many individuals in political power. Your absence abets that condition every time you stay home from the polls. As more and more people drop out of their own democracy, shrill and highly partisan voices take on a dangerous normalcy.

Regardless of how you peel the apple, we are more alike than we are different!  Everyone in the world people hope for enough to eat, clean water to drink, a safe place to sleep at night, access to medical care, a job that allows them to stand on their own, and peace.

Those political office are not like the large majority and fall to the far edges of the political spectrum. They are often radical, combative, trapped in ideology and incapable of common sense. They have little regard for those who don’t share their views.

This begs several questions:

If We the People generally share various shades of the same aspirations and hopes, how is it that so many elected officials do not?

And how do they get elected in the first place?

Consider these two phenomena – low voter turnout in primary elections and gerrymandering – working hand in hand to award political power to individuals who too often have no business achieving such lofty status.

  • In the September 12, 2017 Charlotte, NC primary elections, voter turnout was only 7.97 percent! “Voters under 25 made up just 2 percent of those who took part in the primaries, according to the Mecklenburg County elections board. Those under 40 comprised less than 18 percent.” (Charlotte Observer, 10/1/17, Jim Morrill). Feeble participation in our democracy by any standards!
  • Gerrymandered election districts – rigged to give unfair advantage to political parties –  stifles competition via cruelly creative map-drawing.

Recently, John Nichols at U.S. Common Sense wrote, “While the majority of Americans are politically moderate, the most polarized voters go to the polls in greater numbers, especially in primaries. The smaller the voter pool becomes, the more weight a single vote carries and the easier it becomes for an active, partisan minority to determine an election’s outcome. Voters in the far wings of either party wield disproportionate influence in primary elections, thus, highly-polarized politicians come to represent a moderate constituency.” If the nominee (and eventual general election victor) is chosen by a highly-polarized, restricted primary voter pool, he or she is likely to push the government ever deeper into intransigence and gridlock.

He goes on to say, “American democracy is not working.” We have “a Congress that reflects gerrymandered district lines rather that the will of the people and a voting system that discourages rather that encourages the high turnouts that are needed to establish a genuinely representative democracy.” (http://uscommonsense.org/research/effect-voter-turnout-political-polarization)

And try this on: During the 2016 North Carolina House and Senate Legislature primary elections, 58 of 170 races (34.1 %) had only a single candidate from one major party. Those campaigns were over and decided before the primary election took place! In the fall general election, 76 of 170 (44.7%) had only a single candidate from one major party. Those elections as well were over and decided before the polls opened on election day. It should be obvious – and frightening to all – that when only a single candidate is on the ballot, voters are left with no choices! Consequently, politicians are neither forced to seek out voters of different perspectives – nor do they bother to maintain accountability after taking office.

Low turnout and gerrymandered election districts restrict voter choice and alter the caliber of people who run for office. A formula for disaster. A crushing blow to our hard won democracy.

When YOU don’t vote in primary elections, you help open the door to election of politicians who aren’t like most of us. Couple voter apathy with gerrymandering – where the opposition party is locked out – and result is a perfect storm of opportunity for polarizing candidates to win office and take our communities down paths unacceptable to most of us.

Want a society that functions for all? Vote in every election…and help Flush Gerrymandering forever.