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James Madison warned us in Federalist Number 10, that, “…the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.” Madison was warning us about dangers of not voting, that in doing so, voters would be empowering a small number of people to decide who should govern the rest of us.
In Charlotte County, 26.4% of registered voters turned out to vote in our recent Primary Elections, which is consistent with our average of a 23% Primary turnout since 2002. But how does this stack up against our general elections? Since 1964, an average of 61% of Charlotte County registered voters have turned out during the off-year elections. During a Presidential election year, county voters have averaged a 77% turnout rate. Both rates have exceed the national turnout rate of 55% during this same period.
Many factors contribute to our higher rate, including our demographics. Older citizens do vote at a greater rate than younger voters. We also offer many opportunities to vote, including mail-in ballot, early voting, and Election Day.
To give voters the maximum convenience and opportunity to vote, Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis provides 14 early voting days, the maximum allowed by law. He encourages residents to visit their website at www.charlottevotes.com, where a wealth of information can be found on topics such as how to register, applying for a mail-in ballot, candidate and referendum information, and election results.
Prior to 1920, national voter turnout routinely exceeded 70%, a rate that has not been achieved since 1900. From 1920 to 2016, voter turnout steadily declined, fluctuating between 49% and 63%. Since 1972, voter turnout has not reached 60%, averaging 54%.
This precipitous drop has occurred despite the additional eligibility of women and non-property owners, the elimination of the poll tax in the 1960s, and the 26th Amendment reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971. Over this period, radio, then TV, and today’s internet and social media have put politics into more homes contributing to a more informed electorate.
But voter turnout still fell. In fact, the United States currently ranks well below other democracies in Europe, Canada and Oceania, even after discounting countries where voting is compulsory. Western Europe averages a 77% turnout.
Why have national rates been declining, particularly over the last 50 years? And why such low voter turnout for our Primary elections. Perhaps some voters are disenchanted with their options or politics, or don’t think their vote matters, or just don’t care. Is civic pride waning?
Jefferson warned us, “If the people become inattentive to the public affairs, government will eventually become wolves and devour its own kind.” On the local level, a 26% primary turnout might be proof that people are indeed becoming apathetic to local public affairs, despite several key races on the ballot.
In our recent Primary, there were 132,984 voters eligible to vote, broken down as follows:
Actual voters and turnout rates were:
Democrats cast a total of 10,928 votes in the Governor’s race, while GOP voters cast 20,329 votes for their party’s candidate. Not every party member cast a vote in this race.
All voters were eligible to vote for the candidates in the Airport Authority District 2 Primary, as there was no announced challenger in the November election. Rob Hancik received 15,959 votes to opponent Julie Price’s 15,300, a margin of 659 votes. These 31,259 voters represented 23.5% of 132,993 registered voters, meaning the winner was elected by 12% of all voters. This certainly is not a slight on any of these candidates, but a reflection on a disinterested electorate and reminds us of Madison’s concern.
Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch was chosen to be his party’s candidate for the Board of County Commissioners District 4 seat by 271 votes over challenger Tom Sullivan (9,624 to 9,353). The 18,977 votes cast were out of 59,789 registered Republicans, representing a 32% turnout for this race. Overall, 16% of all GOP voters chose Deutsch to face the Democratic challenger Joan Fischer in the General Election. 40,812 registered GOP voters decided to sit this race out and not participate, including 1,352 who voted for the GOP pick for Governor but didn’t cast a vote for Deutsch or Sullivan.
Greek statesman and philosopher Plato states that “one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”. I’m not suggesting that the lack of participation has resulted in us being governed by our inferiors or that we are being devoured by wolves – yet. But I’m strongly encouraging voters to turn out in the November election. It is dangerous for people of good conscience to remain silent. Become familiar with the candidates, referenda and amendments to our State Constitution. If not, we just might end up being governed by the very people that Madison, Jefferson and Plato warned us about.
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