Condemning low voter turnout is really an attack on the decisions of voters.
I’m not at all surprised that the New York Times Editorial Board preached a sanctimonious sermon on their editorial page, but this one was more shrill and irritating than their usual. And that’s saying something!
Their headline seems straightforward: “Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years.”
The abysmally low turnout in last week’s midterm elections — the lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent.
In the three largest states — California, Texas and New York — less than a third of the eligible population voted. New York’s turnout was a shameful 28.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the country, despite three statewide races (including the governor) and 27 House races.
Over all, the national turnout was 36.3 percent; only the 1942 federal election had a lower participation rate at 33.9 percent. The reasons are apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns.
Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama, and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years. Neither party gave voters an affirmative reason to show up at the polls.
What garbage. The Republicans ran on opposition to the things that Obama did that voters don’t like. They ran on Obamacare, for example. Did the Republicans have some master plan for making sure that only a few people came to vote? No. They simply ran on the message that they thought would appeal to a majority of Americans. The New York Times Editorial Board has no basis for claiming the outcome of the vote would have been different if more voters had shown up for the polls.
Likewise, the Democrats didn’t put forward plans to revive the economy because they have no idea how to do so, voters know they don’t, and the candidates knew that the voters were aware of their inability. They couldn’t say a lot about President Obama’s “significant achievements” because then they would have been campaigning for the Republicans. The American people hate Obama’s “achievements.”
But the real problem here comes from words like “shameful” and other ways of condemning low voter turnout.
How can we respect voters decisions and yet condemn them when they decide not to vote. That simply makes no sense.
Voters typically don’t vote for two reasons. One is that things are going well and neither candidate is likely to change that. Either way the prosperity will continue.
The other reason is that the government is perceived to be impervious to the power of voting. This is a bad situation to be in but you can’t fix it by moral outrage.
Nor can you fix it by pretending the reason is real apathy. The New York Editorial Board wants mail in voting and early voting. But why? People didn’t want to vote. So they didn’t. There is no reason to degrade their decision by saying they just forgot or didn’t have time and try some contrivance that makes it easier to vote. The editorial gives three factual claims that they say support their contention that contrived early or mail-in ballots increase participation, but that is not enough to prove a causal relationship. On the face of it, that’s not the problem. The problem is that they didn’t want to vote.
And it is demeaning to democracy. If Congress passed a law that permitted them to send their votes in by email and never bother to show up in an assembled meeting in Congress, we would recognize it as subversive to the very meaning of parliamentary government. Likewise, getting rid of Election Day and turning elections into surveys is also demeaning to citizens.
They will vote if they want to. If they decide not to vote, that too is part of the Democratic process. The voters have spoken.