Lord knows we have too many elections. They are all-too frequent and inconveniently staggered. Campaigns seem endless, vicious, and horribly expensive. So we increasingly opt out of what we were taught is our minimal civic duty. Here in Snohomish county, we also confront the prospect of voting for nearly everyone in political office, though not, as yet, the dogcatcher.
Those who follow such matters suggest that low turnout favors the rich and government obstructionists, read ‘the Republican Party.’ Others scratch their heads, realizing that the Rest of Us clearly outnumber the privileged; if we only voted our interests policies would be kinder and gentler rather than harsh and brutal, as the conservatives demand.
A practicing political scientist who pens off-duty insights via his ginandtacos.com blog writes recently:
…By a substantial margin, Americans are asked to come out to vote more regularly than citizens of any other democratic country. We have elections at the drop of a hat, thanks in part to our federal system in which statewide, local, and Federal offices are staggered and elected in different years depending on the state. General elections, municipal elections, recall elections, special elections to fill vacancies, runoff elections in majority-requirement jurisdictions, primary elections…the average American is asked to come out and vote several times per year. For an act in which most people are not especially interested or enthusiastic this is an effective death sentence. We barely care enough to vote in “major” elections like a presidential race or a midterm congressional election. By the time we get down to local and primary elections we’re looking at turnout in the single digits of eligible voters in many places. When turnout is that low you know exactly what the electorate looks like: old, white, and cranky. And this is not unreasonable; who else but old, cantankerous white people have the time or inclination to pay a lot of attention to the Pigsknuckle County Board races? That hot race for Sanitation District Commission Seat 3B? That barn-burner of a school board contest?
Since we live in America, which seems impervious to best practices gleaned elsewhere, we seem to be stuck in a dysfunctional loop. We have so much democracy on paper that we lose the political forest for the trees.
The simple solution would be to dramatically reduce the number of government offices for which we vote and to hold a single election, say every four years. Oh, and I would make election day a national holiday. While I’m at it, I’d curtail campaign seasons to days rather than years and sharply restrict campaign revenues and expenses.