Thursday, June 15, 2006 :::
The TD's Tyler Whitley offers an additional perspective on voter turnout Tuesday, in particular, a precinct where no one voted at all:
State Board of Election officials said the Rockingham County precinct was the only one of about 2,400 in the state where no one voted in the Democratic Senate primary.
Now I poked a bit of fun at Tuesday's turnout numbers. And yes, primaries generally tend to excite only the truest of believers, which means that the overwhelming majority of eligible voters will stay away from the polls.
But there is some concern in some quarters that low turnout somehow means the system is in trouble, or at least in need of serious tinkering (Jerry offers his thoughts on the matter here). I disagree. There are a number of reasons why people don't show up to vote in primaries, including apathy, alienation, disgust, or simple ignorance. No systemic changes will alter those conditions as they are highly individualized and thus beyond the reach of large-scale solutions.
I've said before that when people are generally satisfied with (or at least resigned to) the status quo, they will not flock to the polls. They have no message to send by defeating an incumbent or rallying behind a challenger who offers a radical break from the established order. There were some signs of that in the 2005 legislative primaries. But they were isolated and overwhelmingly unsuccessful.
The exact opposite was true during congressional races in 1992 and 1994 (though not in Virginia). Then, there was scandal in the air...the House post office and bank were major issues leading to the defeat of near-record numbers of incumbents in primaries and general elections. The conditions were ripe for change, and it happened.
Even though turnout was still, generally, underwhelming.
There may come a time when turnout rises to levels that please editorial boards and politics watchers alike. But I suggest that for such things to happen, we must either be facing a crisis of enormous proportions or we must rethink the franchise entirely, meaning, decreasing the pool of eligible voters (which neither will nor should happen).
Are there less drastic solutions? Perhaps. And like Jerry, I believe some of those proposed in the RT article he links to are worth considering, such as closed primaries and consolidated balloting. It might also be helpful if Virginia abandoned its odd-year elections for legislative and statewide offices and moved them all to even years. As matters stand now, Virginians are asked to vote every year at one level of government or another. I know it's not asking much, but if we're serious about streamlining the process, it ought to be considered.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/15/2006