Editorial: The hope vs. the travesty
As the birthplace of modern democracy, Americans of all political stripes might be concerned that the national turn-out in this past Tuesday’s mid-term election was just 36.6 percent.
It was one of the lowest turnouts in recent times, and it is likely that the national will might not be accurately represented by the results. That is particularly true when the effect of big money in the campaigns is considered, when we assess the impact of state laws that reduce voter turnout, and when you break down voter demographics.
Two years ago, President Obama was swept into the second term of his presidency with a mandate — among other things — to proceed with health care reform, to overhaul our immigration laws, to focus on education and improve student outcomes, and to get out of the wars started by the previous administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. Voter turnout across the nation in 2012 was pegged at 57.5 percent, while voter turnout in 2008 when President Obama was first elected was 62.3 percent.
That the turnout in 2014 was 20 percent less (lower than most mid-term elections) should send a signal to Americans that our democracy is faltering, and that corrective action is needed.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a partial solution — pass a national Election Day holiday. Last Friday he said he would introduce legislation to that effect.
“In America, we should be celebrating our democracy and doing everything possible to make it easier for people to participate in the political process,” he said. “Election Day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote. While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy.”
It’s a common-sense proposal that correctly puts the national focus on the importance of voting. What American could be opposed to that?
Sadly, the answer is likely to be: most Republicans in Congress.
Republicans, as that party knows, benefit from low voter turnout, hence the party’s push in state legislatures to pass measures that suppress turnout, including reducing opportunities for early voting, making it harder to register to vote and requiring a current photo ID when voting.
But Sanders’ point can’t be denied — we should do better and we can. In Denmark, 80 percent turnout is normal. Shockingly, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th in the world for average voter turnout.
That, says Sanders, “is an international embarrassment.”
Moreover, in the eyes of the world this election’s 36 percent turnout undermines the very idea that America is governed by the majority, not corrupted by political parties or subjected to undue influences of big money. That idea, which is part of our national brand, has worked well to bring the best and brightest minds and entrepreneurs from throughout the world to our shores, where new ideas then hatch and help spark our industrial and commercial leadership. Losing that appeal is no trivial matter.
The stumbling block to Sanders’ legislation lies, nonetheless, in voter demographics and the edge a higher turnout gives to Democrats. In last Tuesday’s election, the biggest drop-off in voter turnout compared to 2012 was among young people and Hispanics. Voters between the ages of 18-29 made up only 13 percent of the 2014 turnout (compared to 19 percent in 2012), while Hispanic voters made up only 8 percent (compared to 10 percent in 2012). In both instances that is far less than their respective share of the population as a whole, which is roughly 17 percent. The same was true for voters between the ages 30-44, which represented 27 percent of the turnout in 2012 and just 22 percent in 2014.
Older people represented a larger percentage of the vote in 2014. In 2012, those between 45-64 represented 38 percent of the turnout, compared to 43 percent in 2014; and voters 65 percent and over represented just 16 percent of the vote in 2012 (which reflects their share of the population) compared to 22 percent in 2014. That’s a swing of about 12-14 percent — 6-7 percent down among younger voters and 6-7 percent up among older voters.
White voters also made up a greater percentage of the turnout in 2014, at 75 percent, compared to 72 percent in 2012, while there were 2 percent fewer Hispanics (8 percent in 2014 compared to 10 percent in 2012), and 1 percent fewer black voters (13 percent in 2012 compared to 12 percent in 2014.)
The “Republican wave,” as some have called this election, was built largely on poor turnout and a whiter, older and male demographic that leans more conservative than the nation as a whole. Considering how many Senate races came down to the wire, it’s safe to say a higher turnout would have produced significantly different results — certainly in Colorado, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Creating legislation that expands voter turnout would champion the very principles on which this nation was founded, re-instill hope to millions of Americans and serve the nation well in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately, it works against the party that for the past decade has been intent on using big money and harsh regulations to do just the opposite. That’s the travesty of these times.
Angelo S. Lynn
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