Is 20 percent of the voting population enough to determine a true winner in an election?
Well, yes – the way the current election system is set up, no matter how many eligible voters in any election go out and cast their ballot, the final tally is set and citizens are expected to go on about their business.
The situation is the invariable truth about any election cycle, so much so that they have an entire political science course at most universities devoted to the practice. A combination of volunteers and paid staff spend weeks preparing for these individual days in which, supposedly, eligible voters swarm the polls to cast their opinion.
Except, they don’t. For instance, on Nov. 8, 2016, the nation went through a presidential election – a relatively nasty one, nationwide, but one that was expected to be clear for the Republican Donald Trump in Louisiana. The now-president of the United States took 58 percent of the vote (1,178,638 voters) to Hillary Clinton’s 38 percent (780,154).
The turnout? Well, 68 percent, two-out-of-three. In political terms, that’s considered an absolute success story. For school-bound folks, that’s a D+ (or an F, if not using a 10-point grading scale) and it should be considered that way for anyone who believes in the idea of a democratic republic. Why?
Because the race was everywhere – TV, newspapers, magazines, social media. It was difficult for any citizen of the United States (and abroad) to get away from the spectacle.
And yet, in a state where Trump was decidedly popular in suburban and rural areas, the turnout just didn’t reflect the hype.
Livingston Parish turnout? 70 percent.
Here’s a fun fact – there have been 11 total elections in the Bayou State since that presidential run. If you don’t include the runoff that occurred by way of that particular election, 10. The participation in that follow-up? 30 percent.
Granted, the 17.2 percent for statewide turnout (13 percent in Livingston Parish) for secretary of tate doesn’t seem that bad considering which seat was up for grabs, but there are still two issues that must be addressed – turnout, and cost.
Yes, these elections cost the state and local municipalities money. For most elections in Louisiana, the state and locals split half of the cost – a tab which runs up pretty quick, especially as the number of elections grow. Those costs include required advertising, staffing, tabulation of results … among other things.
Depending on the technological level of a voting machine, it can run anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000.
Now, back to the November primary and voters will see a 50 percent statewide turnout – a more palatable number, to be sure. The October primary in 2017? 14.3 percent statewide, with 12.1 percent in Livingston Parish.
So, how to fix a situation where – it appears – voter turnout is lucky to crack into double digits? It’s difficult to find a particular pattern other than high-flying presidential elections every four years. For reference, the U.S. House of Representatives election is every two years and the U.S. Senate every six.
Even taxes don’t get the blood roiling like they used to, as evidenced by both recreation taxes collecting 17 percent and 20 percent.
Many will argue that perhaps elections should happen as often as individual municipalities and political subdivisions vote to have measures put on a fall or spring ballot. True, America is based on freedom, except – as mentioned – elections cost money, and John and Jane Citizen are getting a decidedly poor return on investment with runoff elections, spring elections, and just about any fall election that doesn’t have a big headliner.
For instance – could these measures have waited until next year’s election that will, more than likely, have a fun (and controversial) gubernatorial race?
Yes, they could.
It should be noted that low election turnouts tend to favor incumbents.
So, if citizens are looking to protect their hard-earned (and easily collected) tax dollars, it’s time to push for election reform that includes fewer election cycles per year. Maybe, and this will be hard to swallow, no elections are allowed every third year unless it contains a Senate or presidential race.
Six elections per year is too much, by any standard, and can be named as a main culprit for any apathy among an electorate. If you’re going to get voters out, it’s clear that you need a full ballot, with a headliner and several side acts that are worth, at least, some debate.