Ever wonder why politics in this country is so screwed up? Here's one possible explanation: most people don't bother to vote in the elections that count. Once every four years, we show up for the general election and cast a ballot for President, and maybe once every two years we drop by the polls to vote for a Congressional candidate. The rest of the time we're conspicuous in our absence. We hear it over and over -- change begins at the local level; you can't vote just once every four years and expect it to make a difference -- but then when a school board election, a millage issue, or even a primary comes along, we stay home.
Or at least most of us stay home. Who goes to the polls for the elections most of us ignore? The hard-core fanatics, the true believers, the fire-breathing ideologues who will seize upon any opportunity, big or small, to push their agendas. I started thinking about this issue after I heard a reminder on the radio about a special election in Hancock this week. It didn't affect me (Hancock is a small city about 45 miles from here), but I did find myself wondering just what the voter turnout would be. I served on the election board in Baraga County for awhile, and I can remember times when we poll workers would get to sit there for hours playing UNO or Yahtzee because so few voters were wandering in.
Then I heard the results from Indiana and North Carolina. In reporting the Indiana Republican primary results, the news media made it sound as though it was a hotly contested race for the Senate nomination in Indiana, and maybe in one sense it was -- but when you have news reports noting voter turnout in one county at 16% of eligible voters, you have to wonder just how much the voters actually understood about the consequences of staying home. One report quoted a poll worker who said it was over an hour after the polls opened before anyone showed up to vote. I can understand people thinking that the presidential nomination is no longer an issue, but that wasn't the only thing on the ballot.
As for North Carolina. . . the big issue there was amending the state constitution to prohibit gays getting married. The issue got a tremendous amount of press, some really big names campaigned for or against it, it was a Big Deal. So where were the voters? Not at the polls. This news report starts off by predicting record turnouts for the election. The truly sad part comes when you see just what a record turnout might be.
The divisive nature of Amendment One was obvious Tuesday at polling places across North Carolina, as elections officials said the turnout could be the biggest for a primary voting date in decades.
A number of county, state and federal races are on the Democratic and Republican primary tickets, but it is Amendment One -- the issue that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and not permit the legalization of gay marriages -- that is luring voters. Officials at three precincts visited by The Observer at midday said turnout has been steady since the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. They said the turnout was a bit heavier than they had expected. Mecklenburg County elections officials initially said they expected a 30 percent turnout, but that might prove to be low.
Gary Bartlett, the state elections supervisor, told NewsChannel 36, the Observer's news partner, late Tuesday morning that the state-wide turnout could exceed 37 percent. That would make 2012's turnout the biggest for a primary in a quarter-century, Bartlett said.Thirty-seven percent! Well, if only a little of a third of the eligible voters show up to vote, what do you think the odds are that those voters are going to be the tinfoil hat types, the fanatics, the hardcore no-compromise-on-anything ideologues?