Commentary by Rusty Pipe: Is Low Voter Turnout a Bad Thing or Just a Symptom of Another Problem?

Commentary by Rusty Pipe

News reports, commentators, candidates, and elected officials have been lamenting about the latest low voter turnout numbers.  Short of requiring people to vote, it is unclear what else could be done to improve voter turnout.  The Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC suggests additional funding for outreach to communities with especially low turnout would help. Without question, a higher turnout among a diverse, informed electorate would produce better results.

To be fair, California has been trying to boost turnout.  Every registered voter in California now receives a ballot in the mail.  They can easily return the ballot in a postage paid envelope; a voter does not even need to buy postage.  Same day voter registration is available.  And a voter has approximately a full month to fill out their ballot.

Politicians decided to consolidate elections saying that odd numbered year elections (mostly local elections) would get more attention during higher turnout even-numbered primary and general election years, but that did not increase turnout in the even-numbered years.  In fact, more races listed on the ballots have caused some voters to complain that there are too many races to follow in one election cycle.

Campaigns do everything possible to turn out their voters, including spending millions to persuade their base to turn out and vote.  They call, email, and mail.  They advertise on billboards, TV, radio, social media sites, and with pop-up ads on computers and other devices.  They even send people to knock on voters’ doors. 

What more can be done to increase turnout?  Or is it time to consider that turnout is not the problem.  Maybe voters don’t care or don’t think that voting for one candidate over another matters.  Maybe it is time to ask why we want to encourage people to vote, if they are not informed or inclined to vote.  Maybe it’s time to consider that there are bigger problems with our electoral system.

Conversations around the water cooler suggest that low voter turnout isn’t exactly the problem, but more a symptom of a larger problem.   Maybe the problem is the process itself along with voter apathy.  Maybe it is time to consider putting time limits on how long a candidate can actively campaign.  Maybe we need better candidates. Maybe the media can do a better job covering politics.  Maybe the voting age population needs to take their civic responsibility more seriously – it is at least as important as hair care products and football.  Maybe our elected leaders need to do a better job of showing voters why their elections mattered. 

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