Saturday, December 24, 2005

How Many Will Show Up?

Another national election is right around the corner. In November of 2006, we will go to the polls to vote in national, state and local elections. 2006 will be a busy election season in other countries also, as there are 30 presidential elections and 35 legislative or parliamentary elections across the world.

The idea of voting is very appealing to those who live under a different system of government. Many people living under the rule of dictatorships and totalitarian governments long for the ability to choose their government and have the same basic rights and freedoms we enjoy in this country.

The rights and freedoms we have come at a great cost. It is no overstatement to say that many men and women have died to achieve, uphold and protect our right of self-determination and the ability to vote for one's representatives and leaders.

Why then does the United States have one of the most mediocre voting records in the world relative to voter participation? Over the last 20 years, the United States has an average voter turnout (including both presidential and non presidential years) of 45%. What does it tell us when the most powerful country in the world cannot get half of the eligible voters to the polls to vote? Have we gotten so cynical that we believe our vote doesn't count or matter? Or, have we gotten so content that we believe that things are going relatively well no matter who is representing us?

It's ironic that in the most recent election in Iraq, the people voted at a reported percentage of about 70-75%. This is phenomenal voter turnout, and all the more so because the people going to the polls did so at great peril. Imagine this country having a national election with the threat of a bomb or other type of attack. What do you think the participation level would be? Without a doubt, the people of Iraq deserve our praise for their courage. It would be a great thing to see the enthusiasm of the Iraqi voter infect the American voting populace.

While we seem to have a consistent level of voter participation in the United States, it's nothing to write home about. Research from the Federal Election Commission reports the following:

- During the last six presidential elections, participation of eligible voters averaged 52.9%. Largest voter turnout was the last presidential election in 2004 where 55.10% of the voters participated. The smallest turnout was in 1988 with 50.10% of the eligible voters participating. All in all, this is relatively strong participation compared with the off year voting statistics.

- During off year elections which are those national elections that do not include the election of the president, the voting record since 1982 is an anemic 37.4% of eligible voters. The largest turnout in the last six elections was in 1982, with 39.8% of the eligible voters participating and the smallest turnout was in 1986 and 1998 with 36.4% of the eligible voters participating in both years. A minor uptake of .6% occurred during the elections of 2002, which is surprisingly low considering the terrorism events of the previous year and the state of the economy during 2001 and early 2002.

As a comparison with other countries the US falls right in the middle of the pack relative to voter turnout. In 2005 for example, there were approximately 53 national elections for either presidential or parliamentary and legislative offices held across the world. According to CNN's World Election Watch web site, during the 2005 election year, voter participation ranged from a low of 22.9% for Egypt's presidential election to a high of 93.23% for Tajikistan's parliamentary elections. Overall, voter participation during these elections in 2005 can be divided into 4 quadrants and illustrate the following:

- In the range of 0-25% voters participating there was 1 country in this category (Egypt's Presidential election);

- In the range of >25-50% had 4 countries this category (Poland gets both lowest and highest, with the Presidential elections achieving 49% participation and the parliamentary elections garnering 40.56%);

- In the range of >50-75% had 21 countries in this category with the highest in the range being Kyrgyzstan's presidential election with 74.97% participation and the lowest being Croatia's presidential election with 50.57% turnout.

- In the range >75% or higher had 16 countries with the highest participation being Tajikistan's parliamentary election with 93.23% participation and the lowest being Kazakstan's presidential election being 76.8% participation.

There are two questions I would like to pose to the reader. Do you think there will there be an increase in voter participation in November of 2006? What can we do to increase voter participation?

The next election will be one of the most significant in many years. We are at war, and by the time the election in November 2006 rolls around, we will have been at war longer than the US was during World War II. Certainly, the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq will be front and center to many people, but it's not the only issue out there. Health care cost, growing deficits, continued fluctuation in the job market driving many jobs overseas are just a few issues the people of the country will be facing during the months before the election. What will be the driving issue that motivates someone who has not voted before to go to the polls?

I would love to see voter participation in the next election equal that of the participation in the most recent Iraqi election. It would be a great gesture to the Iraqi people that we take our democracy as seriously as they do. Let's make it a goal to get the voting percentage up. We don't have to dodge bullets or bombs to cast our votes folks, so we should be able to do better than we have before.