Primary Election Day 2017 rolled around Tuesday May 2, and again, it was a sad day for participatory democracy. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, freedom and bravery were in short supply, as only 6.84 percent of registered voters in Franklin County bothered to vote. The totals in central Ohio and every other county would be even lower if ballots cast were compared to the total of age-eligible adults who are not registered to vote.
In Stark County, The Canton Repository Editorial Board recently boo-hooed that voter turnout “stunk.” On observation that only 6.3 percent of registered voters voted, the editorial cried that “we consider it typical or common for fewer than 10 percent of registered voters to turn out in an primary election in which there was a critical sales tax renewal on the ballot…Tuesday’s primary. That’s shameful, if not embarrassing.”
“Unfortunately, short of requiring people to vote, there’s no easy solution,” the editorial opined. “Many people feel disenchanted with the current political system. They distrust ‘career politicians’ and don’t believe their problems are being properly addressed — if addressed at all. A resurgence in political activity following the recent presidential election apparently has not translated to the local level.”
In 2014, it didn’t translate to the state level either, as voter turnout was the lowest since World War II, about 37 percent. That means that for Gov. Kasich, described by media as a popular governor until the latest Gravis Marketing poll showed that at 42 percent he’s flirting with his once low-ratings in the high 30s, fewer than one in every four registered voters cast their ballot for him.
After decades of Republicans and their allied media like Fox News demonizing government – mocking political candidates as untrustworthy or less than pure and covering electoral politics like it’s a spectacle like American Ninja Warrior – is it really hard to believe that high school graduates understand so little of the nation’s very broken system of elections? From county dog catcher to President of the United States, all the offices in between these two extremes are what make this country tick tock or not.
The ticking may be the sound of democracy gone out of balance. Big money has overcome campaign finance rules, as easy to evade as they are, to team up with partisan interests to keep voting down, through voter ID laws or geographic placement not beneficial to the transportationally challenged. For the GOP, low voter turnout is the goal, while Democrats lean toward more access made possible with less local-level rigor. If winning 50+1 wins control of 100 percent of the game board, why not win with fewer voters?
In Ohio, voter suppression laws were passed by a very conservative legislature and signed by a very conservative governor, each of whom then defended them in court when challenged,. They are proud of what they’ve done to make it harder for some to cast their ballot under the guise of voter fraud.
Gov. John Kasich signed without objection bills designed to reduce voter turnout, while the Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Secretary of State Jon Husted, used the resources of their agencies to defend said ills when they were inevitably challenged in court.
With billions spent to skew the vote one way or the other, and voter participation embarrassingly low by world-wide standards, why hasn’t the time come to move to mandatory voting? Can’t get much worse, it seems. It would create some new problems, of course, but it would solve or eliminate most of the biggest problems that have festered for decades.
The most noteworthy country with mandatory or compulsory voting is Australia. Arguments for and against are not in short supply to no surprise. In the 238 years after American declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, maybe it’s time to change from voting as a right that can be ignored to voting as a responsibility with consequences for not voting.
Other natural and associated reforms, like a federal holiday set aside for voting, public financing for legislative races and equal time on media for those brave enough to run for public office could make voting the great hallmark of American democracy again.
The sacrosanct act of community participation, as the Founding Fathers conceived of it, could be saved from the death spiral it’s currently in. The Russians don’t need to tamper with voting machinery when the system as designed does a lot of their dirty work for them. Underfunded and run on the cheap, America’s system of democracy, always at the clutches of political parties, seems gridlocked in perpetuity.
“Compulsory voting refers to laws which require eligible citizens to register for and participate in democratic election of representatives to form governance of their homeland, province or local government. Effective compulsory voting imposes penalties on citizens or constituents who fail to cast a vote in an official election and actively pursues eligible citizens who fail to register as voters as required by law. As of August 2013, 11 democracies — about 5% of all United Nations members — enforce compulsory voting out of 22 countries listed worldwide as having a compulsory voting system.” [Source: Wikipedia]
Just think of what everyone of eligible voting age voting on a special Election Day set aside for voting would mean to the big money that goes into making voting seem dirty or a waste of time.
Such a reform is, of course, unthinkable and undoable in today’s hyper-partisan environment, where an outdated creation like the Electoral College can put someone in the Oval Office even though that candidate can ignore losing the popular vote by millions, as happened in 2016.
More worries about democracy arise with The White House’s new commission on “election integrity.” The New York Times says it “has a simple, if unstated, goal: creating hurdles that make voting more difficult, especially for low-income, Latino and African-American citizens. The commission is being led by Mike Pence, the vice president and former governor of Indiana, and Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. Those two states have put in place several vote-suppression techniques that may end up being models for the commission.”
On balance, it might be in America’s best self-interest to realize that hoping voters vote as a demonstration of their civic mindedness isn’t working, and may be getting worse, and that changing to mandatory voting is now warranted now that a handful of voters can elect candidates that control 100 percent of budgets and public policy decisions even though they won their positions on a wing and a prayer.