Thursday, November 01, 2007

How to increase voter turnout? More choices!

Last month, the Glens Falls Post-Star asked readers to submit suggestions about what the paper could do to encourage higher voter tournout. Here are some of my thoughts...

I believe there's a link to the fact that the United States is the only western country with only two parties represented in our national legislature (and nearly all state ones) and and the fact we have the lowest voter turnout in the western world. I vote in every election that I can, but most of the time it's out of a sense of duty, rather than a true belief that I'm voting for a great candidate.

The high registration/low voter turnout dichotomy has causes, not all of which are apathy and ignorance.

On the national and state level, these causes are well known. Corporate media bias against smaller parties as expressed by its near universal refusal to give anything other than the occasional token coverage to smaller party candidates. And rigged state electoral laws that create a distinctly unlevel playing field for the non-major parties.

Locally, its roots are in the suffocating dominance of the Republican Party in the region combined with the impotence and cluelessness of Chairman Keith Lawrence and the rest of what passes for the leadership of the Warren County Democratic Party.

Nearly every election cycle produces scores of uncontested races in Warren County**, outside the city of Glens Falls. County Democrats can't even find people to run for high profile countywide positions like sheriff and district attorney. And even those rare contested races are quite often between a Republican who won the primary and a Republican who lost the GOP primary but got another ballot line. People are obviously dissatisified with the paucity of choices on offer. Three different flavors of vanilla doesn't excite a lot of people.

A great example is the recent race for sheriff. This was by far the most high profile local race in Warren County. Supporters of the two Republican candidates, Bud York and incumbent Larry Cleveland, deluged the paper and other local media with their comments, smears and abuse. York beat Cleveland in both the GOP and Independence primaries. He will be the only person on the ballot in November.

So the sheriff was decided by 8000 Republicans and 140 Independence Party members. The opinions of the 18,000 registered voters who didn't belong to either party were irrelevant. 44% of the registered voters in Warren County were disenfranchised in this race.

What I'd like to see The Post-Star do is encourage people to considering joining and being active in smaller parties. It should encourage smaller parties to run their own candidates, rather than to simply glom on to a GOP primary loser.

And when those candidates run, it should give them a decent amount of press coverage to the Republican candidate (and Democrat, if there is one). Not the one or two token stories about the quirky gadfly running for whatever office. But a consistent amount of press coverage comparable to the GOP and Democrat candidates. Any time a major party candidate is quoted in a story on an issue, so should the smaller party candidate(s). It's not that difficult but it requires a change of mindset on the part of the paper.

It is unacceptable for The Post-Star to criticize the apathy of voters if the paper itself can't be bothered to seek the opinion of all candidates on important issues.

I believe that the greater diversity of choices offered will increase voter turnout simply because more people will find their views represented in a candidate... but only if the public is made aware of all their choices.

**-Update: According to County Board of Elections numbers, this year is no different regarding the Democrats inability to field candidates. Republicans are running unopposed in three of the four countywide offices up for grabs.

Of the 67 local offices available countwide, there are no more than 13 actual Democrats running. There are at least 2 Republicans who lost their party's primary and are running on the GOP line. There are 12 Republicans who were also handed the Democratic line.

All this means that over 80 percent of the offices up for grabs in Warren County will have no actual Democrat contending.

It also means that countywide, there are more Republicans on the Democratic ballot line than Democrats.


Scoop said...

And why is it the same OLD people constantly run when they are on the verge of a dirt nap? The Warren county clique has controlled for years it is politics as usual. Young people are so disgusted with the same old garbage from the local to county to state to federal. Lies, promises, indictments, etc.

Jim Sullivan said...


Two years ago, I joined the Libertarian Party and I'll tell you, it's been an eye-opener. I can't believe the resistance to anything but the Republican or Democrat spiel. The Libertarians are making inroads in a couple of places (like Oklahoma), but unfortunately not up here in NYS. It's been tough. I wish I was more of a people person and could sell the idea of another party to people but all attempts on that front have been dismal.

I've toyed with the idea of running for office (don't worry. The idea didn't last very long, as long as a fart in a good stiff breeze)myself but then, I think what stops me is what stops many; Who wants to step into the ring to get mud slinged at them by the other politicians? They come off as a nest of vipers at times and its pretty discouraging.

Adding Political Party choices seems like one of the best solutions possible. But it stills seems like pulling teeth.

John Sullivan said...

There's another factor, too often overlooked, that influences voter turnout and interest -- candidate contact, especially in local elections. For example, Rodger Hurley, a Democrat, defeated a long-time Republican Granville Town Supervisor, John Cosey, despite the fact that Granville is overwhelmingly Republican. The reason was simple: Hurley visited nearly every registered voter, and saw to it that a large number of new voters were registered. Time after time, he said, people told him they would vote for him "because you're the first politician to ever ask me what I thought." Cosey, who relied on the notion that most voters knew him because of his long incumbency, lost by a wide margin. Contrast Hurley's experience with that of a Democratic candidate for Chester Town Board. I can't remember her name, and here's the reason: she, like the other candidates for office there, never put in a lick of work, showing such contempt for voters that they never even posted signs around town -- the minimal electioneering effort possible.
Too often, local candidates make little or no effort to get out the vote, a mark of laziness and contempt that, if carried forward to their work in office, should give us all reason to wonder about the future of grass-roots democracy.