I’m one of those relics who believes that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain when your representatives at any level of government don’t keep their campaign promises, pass scam legislation (i.e. the state legislature’s recent SAVE Act), or don’t act responsibly.
And I believe we should all be seriously concerned when Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler predicts voter turnout for the October 24 primary gubernatorial election of 45 – 50 percent, which is discouraging in this country, the citizens of which often declare ours the ultimate “of the people, by the people, for the people” shining light on the hill nation.
We should probably revisit just how that shining light upon a hill nation manifested, but that’s another discussion. Actual voter turnout for the primary election was 39 percent of registered voters.
In Bossier Parish, home of Barksdale Air Force Base – Global Strike Command, the Mighty 8th Air Force and the 2nd Bomb Wing — turnout was meager 30.5 percent.
So I found no solace in the piece of reality penned by Mike Henderson on his Louisiana by the Numbers blog. Henderson, an assistant professor of research in LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, looking back at election turnout from 1998 to present, opined, in part, on the most recent Louisiana voter turnout, to wit: “… Even if we end up with turnout at 47%, the bottom end of the Secretary of State’s predicted range, this year’s election would fall just above the middle of the pack. If we drop presidential election years, turnout of 47% would come in fifth on the list. If we look at just governor’s elections, 47% comes right in the middle again.
“To be fair, the difference between 47% turnout and 50% turnout amounts to many thousands of votes. If we think democracy should be participatory, then any potential voter who stays home means we could do better as a society.
“This is where the confusion comes in: We’re mixing up our comparisons. I think all our wailing and gnashing of teeth over this year’s apathetic electorate is lower than what pundits, policy wonks, and the press (and me) feel it should be. Given the stakes in this year’s election – the opportunity to elect a new administration that will face immense policy challenges – we can hardly be blamed for thinking engagement should be high.
The problem is that the conversation has been misleading, implying something is derailing voters from their civic duty this year. But believing voter engagement is lower than what we think it should be this year is not sufficient to claim that voter engagement is lower than usual. In fact, it does not look at all unusual.”
From this perspective Henderson is disappointingly correct. Shortly after 9-11, I wrote a piece for The Times lamenting the disappointing turnout of less than 10 percent of voters who cast ballots on something as critically important as funding and improvements to Bossier City’s EMS department. Ten percent of the city’s registered voters weighed in on whether or not to fund a service that might or might not be available to provide critical lifesaving services.
To date, voter turnout over a decade has been lackluster at best in Louisiana – an element of that alleged “shining light upon a hill” nation.
Worse, demographer Greg Rigamer, who has served as a consultant to Schedler’s office, and cited on the New Orleans Gambit blog opines, “The turnout last weekend was inordinately low for this kind of race … The runoff is the weekend before Thanksgiving. Turnout could actually be lower than it was in the primary.”
On Saturday, November 21, Louisiana voters have the opportunity to cast their votes for governor, and other run-off elections as well as local issues – such as increasing the hotel-motel tax in Caddo and Bossier Parishes. We send our blood and treasure around the world to pave the way to this right. What’s it worth to YOU to ensure that such a precious right starts – or perhaps ends — in the nation that defines itself as the “shining light upon a hill?”
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org