Where’s Everybody? The use of red and blue lawn signs in the recent election campaign reminded us that seeing the nation as divided into two camps—red state voters and blue state voters—can be deceptive. Such categorization ignores the largest single group of Americans—the third camp of those who don’t vote at all for whatever reason. What color should they be?
In the 2000 national election in which Al Gore was pitted against George W, Bush, only about 54 percent of eligible voters actually turned out to vote. In 2004, with John F. Kerry trying to unseat incumbent George W. Bush, despite expensive get-out-the-vote campaigns by both sides, the percentage who voted rose only slightly from the previous election.
Also, in the 2000 election an all-time record was set when more than 80 million eligible American voters failed to vote. That number was far greater by a substantial margin than the total number of votes tallied for either Bush or Kerry,. In fact, no Republican or Democratic nominee has attracted 30 percent of eligible voters since Ronald Reagan’s election to a second term in 1984.
Those who have been unsuccessful in getting American voters to turn out in greater numbers ascribe a reluctance to vote to many reasons, principal among them being an attitude best described as “What’s the use? My one vote cannot make much difference when the total votes are in the tens of millions.”
But how to explain the disappointing turnout in local elections here in Croton, when the outcome can directly affect the everyday lives of voters? In 2007 (mayoral elections take place in odd-numbered years), although 5,084 persons were registered to vote in Croton, only 1,958 persons turned out to vote in an election that saw a Republican majority take control of the Village Board. For those who prefer results expressed as percentages, the fate of the almost eight housand residents of the village was decided by votes of only 38.5 percent of those registred to vote.
The most recent election on March 18, 2008, yielded numbers that were even more discouraging: Of the 4,997 registered to vote only 1,767, or 35.4% of those registered to vote, turned out to vote. These sorry numbers are not an anomaly. Consider the turnouts in Croton in previous years expressed as percentages of those registered to vote:
In Australia, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, voting participation reaches 95%, Not far behind are Austria (92%), Belgium (91%), Italy and Luxembourg (90%), Iceland (89%), New Zealand (88%), Denmark (87%). Germany, Sweden and Greece (85%). Compare these with the U.S. average of 54% and we all must hang our heads in shame.
How to Define the Verb Trounce. In the 2008 election the Streany/Minett ticket was trounced in no uncertain terms. Let’s examine the 2008 results and compare them with the results of the 2007 election, just one year before. In 2007, the Democratic ticket was defeated more closely. In the 2007 election, with 3,865 total votes cast for two trustee seats, the Republicans garnered 52 percent of the votes compared with the Democrats’ 48 percent—a more traditional split and a 4 percent spread.
On the other hand, in the 2008 election, the Democrats waltzed away with 63 percent of the 3,533 total votes cast, leaving the Republicans with a paltry 37 percent—not even close with a 26 percent spread between winners and losers.
With such a dismal proportion of the total votes cast, all the Streany and Minett talk we’ve heard about “We’ll be back” is politically unrealistic bravado. Voters simply weren’t buying whatever it was they were selling in 2008, and chances are good they won’t want the same old shopworn promises in 2010.