Secretary of State Tom Schedler made a statement the other day, which the citizens of Louisiana should find disconcerting. When asked for his usual projection for voter turnout in the upcoming November 4 election, he estimated participation at the polls at between 45-50-percent. That would be fewer than half the registered voters in the state.
To some degree the thought of that is mind boggling. Consider this:
Louisiana’s race for the U.S. Senate is one of the most hotly-contested in the country, it’s attracting mega-millions of dollars in media advertising, and party control of the U.S. Senate could be determined by its outcome.
In other Congressional races, the 6th District seat is currently vacant and the 5th District incumbent hasn’t even been in office a full year. Both are attracting a lot of attention and a lot of candidates.
There are hundreds of local elections in play including school board races and judges and a whole host of municipal offices.
This year voters are being asked to make no less than 14 changes to the state’s governing document, the constitution, and in many localities there are also a number of propositions for voters to decide.
So it makes you wonder, given all of that, why would so many people who have so much on the line choose not to cast their vote? One can speculate about all kinds of reasons. Certainly for some families, transportation, illness or disability are all legitimate obstacles. But a report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012 found some more disturbing answers.
Its survey found that only about 3% of registered voters failed to cast a ballot because they forgot. But fully 30% said it was because they were too busy or they just weren’t interested. Thirteen percent said it was because they didn’t like the options. Yet a total of only about 5% cited an inconvenient polling place, transportation or the weather.
That certainly suggests that a lot of the people who choose not to exercise their right to vote are apathetic about it. Which seems odd in a society that now more than ever appears to have a lot to say about government in general and a strong disapproval of the performance of Congress in particular.
Ironically, despite mostly lackluster turnout for recent state elections, it comes at a time when various aspects of voting have never been more convenient. Early voting began this week and runs through October 28, and every parish has at least one place where voters can go to cast their ballots. In addition, the Secretary of State’s
has a wealth of useful voter information and their award-winning
mobile app can put a lot of it literally at your fingertips.
For our part, CABL partnered with Louisiana Public Broadcasting to bring citizens the first U.S. Senate debate featuring all three of the major candidates and it’s still available online at the LPB
. We have also released our suggestions on the 14
on the ballot to help voters understand better what they do and what they mean.
It’s also interesting to note that as much as we all pride ourselves on the spirit of our democracy and the civic-mindedness of our people, it hurts a bit to look across the Atlantic to see that European nations tend to leave us behind when it comes to voter turnout. In the most recent parliamentary elections overseas, 66% of voters participated in the UK, 69% in Spain and 75% in Italy. One can only wonder why we’re not posting the same types of numbers for important elections like the one coming up.
At the end of the day, though, the way we show that we value our very special American democracy is when we participate in it, and voting is the easiest and most meaningful way to do that. Secretary of State Schedler said he really hopes he’s wrong with this year’s election turnout projections. If you think about it, it wouldn’t take that much to make it happen.