Our View: Dishonoring the vote
November 21, 2007
It was a hotly contested election.
You had both political sides accusing each other of corruption, and there was a dispute about electoral votes and who really won. In the end, the U.S. Congress had to investigate.
No, it wasn’t the 2000 election.
It was the 1876 battle for president, in which Samuel J. Tilden was defeated by Rutherford Hayes.
So, one could argue not much has changed in 100-plus years.
That is, other than the percentage of people who actually vote.
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The 1876 campaign had the highest percentage of voters in a presidential election, at 81.8 percent. In 2000, it was considered a great feat to have 60 percent of the voters doing their best to not leave a hanging chad.
The truth is voter turnout is simply not the same, and has not been for a century.
From 1840 to 1900, the lowest voter turnout percentage was 71.3 percent. Conversely, five presidential elections since then have had 50 percent voter turnout or less, and many of those elections have fallen in the 50 to 60 percent range – elections that historically have the highest turnout.
But that is only part of the story.
After our nation’s birth, voting was mostly left to the privileged.
You had to be white.
You had to be male.
You had to be a property owner.
History is littered with long fights for people to gain the right vote, and women and minorities included.
Which brings us to the other part of the story: Given that history, it is disheartening how few people take advantage of that right.
We need to look no further than the area’s most recent election. Less than 40 percent of the people voted in November’s off-year election.
And that was considered good.
Considering that a measly 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the City Council race in April, perhaps they were right, but they are right in comparison only.
How we view elections must change.
First, deal with the obvious. More people vote in November elections and during general elections (or even-year November elections) than in coordinated elections.
The same reason Christmas is in December and Thanksgiving is in November – because people have been taught that it is the time that matters.
To have the City Council election in April – when voter turnout is 35 to 50 percent lower than in November elections – is simply absurd. No benefit the councilors might gain with early elections outweighs the greater voice of the community.
And that goes for all non-November elections in which boards and major tax questions are decided.
Secondly, each us have to look in the mirror. Did you vote? If not, why not? People have literally died to give you that right.
In the end, you’re only as free as you fight for; in this day and age, the vote is your tool to fight.
Others have fought their fight to give you that right.
Now it’s your turn to honor their work.