By Amit Thakkar | LawMaker, Founder & CEO | September 17, 2018
The headlines later today will read “50 Days Until Election Day,” or something along those lines, to seemingly mark a big milestone. Because Election Days are a big deal, right?
So, how would you feel if I told you that a majority of Americans have already missed their chance to vote this year?
It’s true. And you may be one of them.
WE HAD 49 ELECTIONS IN THE PAST FIVE MONTHS
Today also marks the end of what we call “primary season” — the five months in which states hold those “teeny,” “boring,” “insignificant” referenda that inconvenience us before the big day arrives. Every state except Louisiana has held their primaries, and state-by-state estimates of voter turnout are trickling in. Currently, states are reporting numbers that show between 7% and 37% of their registered voters cast ballots in their primaries
All in all, 42M votes were cast in primaries this year, out of 235M eligible voters. Actual primary voters accounted for 17.8% of the voting eligible population.*
Some of you might say, “Well, that’s pretty good for a primary! People still get a chance to vote in November, so primary turnout doesn’t really make a difference, does it?”
Spoiler alert — you’re wrong. Because during most of these 49 “primaries,” voters were asked to vote for the first and last time on hundreds of candidates and issues. For these items, there will be no second chance — ballots were cast, and elections were called, and approximately 80% of potential voters missed their chance to vote on issues that will directly impact them.
So why don’t we call these “primaries” what they really are — Election Days — and start treating them with the importance they deserve?
PFFFFT TO PRIMARIES
The numbers show that most Americans don’t care about primaries. Or at least not enough to cast their ballots. When as many as 62.3% of voters cast ballots in presidential elections (oh, 2008, the good old days), and 18% cast ballots in this year’s primaries, the message is pretty clear. An astounding number of voters don’t consider primaries worth their energy.
This, to crib a vice president, is malarkey. And it’s also exactly what those of us in professional politics want you to believe. But I’ll get to that juicy, conspiratorial bit at the end.
WHEN A PRIMARY ISN’T A PRIMARY
We might call them primaries, but on the very same ballot where voters choose which Democrats and Republicans will attack each other until November, are a multitude of state and local items for which the “primary” is the only election you get. You miss that election, and there is no second chance to weigh in.
Since LawMaker is active in California, we’ll use the Golden State as an example (though it’s hardly unique in this scenario).
On June 5, the day of the California “Primary,” voters were told to come to the polls to choose the contenders for November races to elect a Senator, a plethora of Congress members, and a gaggle of state legislators.
However, on those same ballots were voters’ one and only chance to vote for nonpartisan officials (mayors, sheriffs, judges, public board members), change county charters, enact/reject new statewide laws, and recall sub-par elected officials.
That last one alone should have gotten most of us to the polls. But it didn’t.
California has 25.1M eligible voters, yet only 9.3M (37%) of them cast a ballot. Here’s an unfortunately long list of what the other 63% completely missed voting on:
And in addition to the above, non-voters in California missed voting on 155 local ballot measures!
So you tell me. What makes a primary any different from an election you’ll actually turn up for?
YOU MISSED CHOOSING WHO’S ON YOUR BALLOT IN NOVEMBER
Even those races where you get a second bite at the apple in November, Americans who didn’t make it to the polls missed a hugely valuable opportunity — actually choosing who gets to be on their ballots.
Have you ever said, “I just don’t like anyone running in this election”?
For those that skipped their primary, you missed your chance to actually select your candidates! Which means you really gave up your right to whinge about the quality of politicians running for office.
Even if you’re sick of establishment candidates who vote straight D or R down the line, you no longer have an excuse. Anti-establishment candidates have an opportunity to win elections like never before. Facebook, Twitter, and platforms like LawMaker, give third and fourth-party candidates a chance for free civic exposure that they would have had to spend millions to purchase in years past. And because of this, we are slowly gaining more opportunities to have the candidates we want, if we just put the minimum energy necessary into participating.
After elections, we often focus on the minority of Americans who cast votes, and asked ourselves “why did they elect so-and-so to office?” But are we really asking the right question? I think we need to be asking why a majority chose not to cast a vote at all. And if you’re one of those people, you may want to ask yourself why you’re willing to abdicate your chance to weigh in on your country’s future.
TOP SECRET: POLITICOS DON’T REALLY WANT YOU TO VOTE
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t make it to the polls. NPR, Vox, and many reputable research institutions have discussed these reasons ad nauseam. But there’s one reason we don’t often discuss: those of us in professional politics don’t really want you to vote.
The less people who vote and pay attention to electoral politics, the more power politicians, parties, lobbyists, and special interest groups have to run the country for our own benefit. The less people who pay attention, the more we can create laws that benefit our friends, our donors, and ourselves. The less people voting, means the less likelihood we’ll ever be held accountable by having our guy/gal voted out of office. So we all go to sleep praying, wishing, hoping, that only a select few of you go to the polls.
So those of us in power tell you that politics is dirty and doesn’t really serve your interests. That government hurts more than it helps. We paint all candidates as equally bad because we don’t want you to take the time to figure out which ones better represents your interests. And we denigrate news and research that tells us how we can improve our communities through real, thoughtful, productive public policy — the same political processes that founded America and made us the leader of the free world.
And to stymie those of you who still aren’t convinced voting is meaningless, the politically and financially influential spend hundreds of millions of dollars supporting candidates who close voting precincts, block early voting, make it harder for college students to vote, and provide ballots only in one language, just to make sure as few people as possible punch a ballot.
And this happens all over the country in a multitude of ways. New York’s election this past Thursday, was riddled with reports that registered voters could not be found on local voter rolls, and were forced to submit provisional ballots instead. While these issues may or may not have been caused by proactive voter disenfranchisement laws, significant problems with New York’s voting infrastructure were identified in 2014 and yet were still ignored.
Even in California, tens of thousands of absentee ballots went uncounted in 2016 because the signature on the ballot wasn’t similar enough to the signature used to register that person to vote, in some cases 50 or 60 years ago.
So, I ask you this. If voting in primaries is really a waste of energy, why are professional politicos spending so much to prevent you from doing it?
Every primary is an election, and you have one chance, only one, to cast your ballot. We have an election in November, and our next “primary season” starts just 19 months after that.
Ask yourself — are you going to use those Election Days to make a difference?
*Some states do not hold primary elections for non-competitive races. However, with every congressional seat up for election, and a multitude of governors, state legislators, and local issues to be decided, it is reasonable to assume nearly all Americans were asked to cast a ballot in 2018.
If you haven’t registered to vote, have moved, or are uncertain about your registration status, spend three minutes and visit: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote.