Over the last several decades, Americans have turned out for elections at a rate significantly less than European countries – or even our own past. In fact, in the 1800’s and 1900’s, turn out rates were around 65 to 80%. Today, we’re lucky fi we hit 40%.
Why is that? Well, part of it is, of course, ongoing dissatisfaction and disillusionment with politics. Negative campaigning turns some people off. Others think that politicians don’t really listen to citizens anyway, and have translated that into an idea that voting doesn’t matter (never mind that they certainly won’t listen to you if you’re not speaking -- but I digress). In still other cases, registration requirements, which were designed to limit some of the, umm, interesting practices of “voting early and voting often” or turning in ballots for those that were no longer among the living, have erected barriers to participation.
But what does it really boil down to? Voting just doesn’t feel fun anymore. Whereas 100 years ago voting on election day was a national pastime, today it feels like a chore. You have to find time to go to your local polling place, face quizzes from the workers as to your identity (are you sure you’re Stephanie Vance? What’s you address?), and then fill out the ballot in a very specific manner or face the humiliation of asking for a new ballot (yes, I’ve done that). No one feels inspired to go to the polling booth and then hit the local bar with friends to speculate, and argue, about the outcomes of the elections.
Perhaps our attention has been distracted by other forms of amusement (television, video games, etc.), and we no longer need to spectacle of politics to keep us entertained. But I wonder how a society that LOVES the World Wrestling Federation and Nascar can possibly find politics boring. Have you seen some of the fights out there lately? It’s better than a night of bare knuckle boxing.
This election day, think about what you can do to really enjoy the spectacle. Invite both donkey and elephant friends over for a party. Set up a system of tracking totals for both the House and the Senate. Award prizes for people who are closest in terms of guessing the final numbers.
Oh yeah, and vote!