For the past 20+ years, I have read (and written) editorials about voter turnout. Sometimes, I try to play on the patriotism of the voter, reminding readers how men and women died for their right (and obligation) to vote. Other editorials try to use hyperbole or strong-armed persuasion to hopefully entice a non-voting voter into one who heads to the polls.
More times than not, these efforts are in vain. Each time the editorial is published, less than 50 percent of registered voters bother to go to the polls. In some cases, the percentage is in the single digits.
One politician I knew pointed out that one of his colleagues was barely elected by a majority from a nine-percent turnout. In other words, less than 5 percent of registered voters put him into office.
During the hotly contested presidential race last year, the numbers didn’t improve. According to a CNN story just weeks after the election, turnout nationwide was a meager 55 percent, the lowest for a presidential race in two decades.
The problem isn’t just at the polls. Citizens fail to take an active role to be informed about important issues — unless the issue strikes too close to home, often when it is too late for anything to be done.
When warranted, public entities hold public meetings to provide information and take questions. Unfortunately, members of the press often outnumber members of the public at such meetings. As someone in “the Fourth Estate,” this lack of participation is disheartening. We in the press are charged with the mantle to be the watchdog over government, but if no one bothers to show up, what’s the point?
We have grown so used to voter apathy, that we get excited when voter turnout climbs above 40 percent. On the other end of the scale, public servants are often miffed when a private citizen dares ask a pointed question. At one time, this was commonplace at town hall meetings. Pointed questions were the rule, not the exception.
Today, we often spew political rhetoric on social media channels, or “re-spew” whatever is out there, without doing any real research on our own. We take what we are fed, and then we get fed up and do nothing. Regardless of your political leanings, the results are often the same.
I was taught when opining that I should always offer a solution, not just point out a problem. To be honest, I can’t do that with this problem. How do we make people care again? How do we make them participate in the process of government?
If you have the answer (short of enduring a period of tyranny) please let me know.
“Do you think it is ignorance or apathy that keeps voters from going to the polls?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
David Specht is president of Specht Newspapers, Inc. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.