We’ve all heard it, every civics class in school urges students to appreciate their freedom to vote and even goofy celebrity slogans like 2004’s “Vote or Die” campaign pop up every four years.
If you ask the average Joe on the street when Election Day is, they’ll likely point to November — but if you think about it, today is the real Election Day. In case you’ve been living under a rock, today is the primary election, and it’s my hope that you guys will read this before the polls close tonight.
The primaries are when we narrow down our choices, and some could argue when we ultimately decide who is going to run this ship, since November’s voters tend to stick with voting straight down the Republican line.
In the 2012 primaries in Park County, only 6,941 people voted, but then in November there were 14,706 voters at the polls.
This isn’t the real problem; it’s just a symptom of a much larger problem — apathy.
Voter apathy is on par with heading out for dinner with friends and asking what everyone wants to eat, and half of them say “I don’t care” — but then ultimately complain about the restaurant you go to anyway.
But numbers don’t lie; a lot of people didn’t show up last time — I hope more show up today because unless you make your voice heard by voting, you really don’t have a right to complain about the outcome.
If you want pizza, say you want pizza. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and say “whatever” but then whine about ending up at the steakhouse. If you want a certain candidate, say so today, because once the polls close tonight you’re going to be stuck with whomever the majority picks as the options for November.
Voter apathy is hardly a new trend, according to the American Presidency Project put together by UC Santa Barbara. Voter turnout peaked in 1876 when about 81.8 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls — but keep in mind, women weren’t allowed to vote at that time.
By the time the 19th Amendment passed in 1919 and was ratified in 1920, voter participation bottomed out at about 48.9 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots — a percentage not seen again until the 1996 election when about 49 percent showed up.
Since then, voter participation has been increasing but is still in the mid-50s.
So what’s the deal?
Considering that low voter participation has been the norm from essentially the get-go, perhaps it is just human nature to not care? Maybe access to the polls is an issue? Maybe voters feel alienated from the politicians they have to choose from?
It seems the only thing we can do is speculate and encourage everyone to vote. Whether they’ll do it is up to them.
Now back to my choosing what’s for dinner analogy. The voters are in the driver’s seat today and the apathetic non-participants are just along for the ride — and if I’m in the driver’s seat, you can be guaranteed we will be getting steak and ordering mozzarella sticks for appetizers.