Why don't more people vote? I started thinking about this question last week when I read a press release announcing that Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed predicts 66 percent of state voters will participate in the upcoming Nov. 2 election, including an expected 69-percent turnout for Seattle. If the numbers hold up, it would be the highest statewide turnout for a midterm election since 1970.
Reed anticipates a higher turnout due to "hotly contested races and ballot measures, heavy television spending and fired-up grassroots activists."
So what about the other 34 percent of eligible state and 31 percent of eligible Seattle voters? Why won't they vote this year? Are they immune to the factors mentioned by Reed? Are they unaware of the responsibilities of participatory democracy? Or do they just have more important things to do?
Remember the presidential campaign of 2008? It began in January 2007, and it seems like it just ended last Thursday. That historic election saturated every aspect of daily life for months on end, yet only 56.8 percent of voting-age Americans chose to actually vote that November.
While that was the highest turnout percentage for a national election since 1968, approximately 98.6 million voting-age Americans ignored the hype and chose not to vote. Maybe there was too much hype and those folks just wanted to avoid the whole thing.
I know when a political ad comes on my TV or radio I can't click it off fast enough.
Maybe Americans have too many elections to participate in. Between "American Idol," "America's Got Talent, "Dancing with the Stars" and other reality contest shows, Americans have a lot of voting to do.
How can a square like Dino Rossi possibly compete with earnestly sung power ballads, dancing monkeys and waltzing celebrities for the hearts and minds of voters?
I wonder what percentage of Americans who vote for contestants on these shows don't vote in political elections. On the other hand, maybe I'm better off not knowing.
Could choosing not to vote be a way for Americans to protest the current political climate? Hyper-partisan candidates and pundits get a lot of credit for getting people to vote, but maybe they drive just as many people away.
And thanks to the Tea Party, there's been an escalation in cringe-inducing candidates this year, including Delaware Senate candidate and perpetually unemployed witchcraft-dabbler Christine O'Donnell; Ohio congressional candidate Rich Iott, who decided to spend more quality time with his son by dressing up in matching Nazi S.S. uniforms; and New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who declared that children should not be "brainwashed" into thinking homosexuality is acceptable. Are these really the best and brightest leaders America has to offer?
Maybe people don't vote because they think elections are bought and sold to the highest bidders. Just to be a candidate nowadays you also need to be filthy rich. Billionaire California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who made her fortune as CEO of eBay, has already spent more than $170 million of that fortune, and there's still two more weeks to go. She has spent more of her own money on her campaign than any other candidate in U.S. history. (She knows they recall governors and replace them with movie stars in California, doesn't she?)
And thanks to last year's "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision, corporations can make unlimited donations to political campaigns. How much money do you think companies like BP and AIG are spending this campaign season? How much money do you think companies located outside of Washington are spending on our state's ballot initiatives this year? Again, I'm probably better off not knowing.
Ultimately, of course, voting comes down to personal accountability. While there are reasonable socio-economic-cultural reasons why certain percentages of our population don't vote, that doesn't explain away all the non-voters. Is it simply laziness, or a lack of education?
In the time it takes to watch one of those reality-TV programs someone could read the Voters' Pamphlet mailed out by Washington state and King County. Most candidates and ballot measures have websites where voters can compare positions.
King County switched to all-mail ballots last year, so there should be no more excuses about not being able to get to a polling place on time.
To persuade more people to vote, advocates often refer to the struggles of our ancestors, particularly women and African-Americans in the last century. Or they point out how numerous elections are decided by a just a small number of votes, like the Christine Gregoire-Dino Rossi gubernatorial contest back in 2004.
Here's one more prompt: On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my parents clicked off the TV and went to vote in a primary after watching the first World Trade Center tower fall.
Yes, voting is a right and a privilege, but sometimes it can be something more: an instinctive need. More of us should feel that need.[[In-content Ad]]