A few weeks ago, I worked the polls on Election Day. As with so many others who perform this right of patriotic duty every other year, we were bored out of our gourds most of the day.
Within my precinct, we processed some 114 out of 931 registered voters -- roughly 12.24 per cent in this, what is thought to be a rather marginally Republican precinct on the northern outskirts of town. This abysmal turnout was repeated in precinct after precinct throughout the Indiana primary -- with returns in Vanderburgh County being more depressed than those in other surrounding, more rural counties.
According to the county auditor's office, right after the election some 1,100 checks similar to the one I received for $60 were sent out to election workers from around the county (that is for 12-hour day, mind you, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.). In all, about $70,000 was paid out of the country treasury to pay for absentee voter election office workers, food, rent, janitors, election night workers and other election-related expenses. Not a huge sum of money, but a sizable one-day outlay on any organization's balance sheet.
Every year we have an election, the abysmal turnout in primary and general elections is about a two-day story for the local newspapers and television stations. Sometimes, a pained editor may scratch his head for a moment and write an editorial about what it all means.
The truth is that apparently (and sadly), most of us really couldn't care less.
Is the question worth asking -- what does this all really mean in the grand scheme of things?
This past election season, the answer is really, not much. Yes, Dr. Paul Perry did defeat John Hamilton in the congressional primary and David McIntosh trounced conservative challenger John Price for the honor of taking on Frank O'Bannon in the fall. Beyond that, there is not much to report -- which is an issue in itself.
The severe front-loading of the presidential primary season this year was an elegant contrivance conjured up by the national political parties to end the real selection process for the presidential race early. This not only disenfranchised literally millions of voters in the presidential race who cast ballots after Super Tuesday, but also (perhaps by design) severely depresses turnout and interest in local races all across the country.
It has also been said that exclusionary procedures, slating and other local party maneuvering frequently depress the number of candidates available to voters for many elected positions. The outrageous expense involved in campaigning is another factor.
Still, others argue that low voter turnout can be translated into a wide-spread satisfaction with the status quo - the obverse being that people are so revolted by politics and politicians their response is a yawning, "Why bother?"
As a veteran Election Day poll worker, I can tell you that one of the major impediments to voting is that people simply do not enjoy declaring a political party preference in the primary election. Most voters are independents and do not closely identify with either political party. Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader, the growing strength and appeal of the Libertarian message and other independent candidacies across the country have demonstrated how badly our political system must be wrested away from the two major political parties.
The people of this nation for the most part, do not believe either Republicans or Democrats. We have heard so many lies, distortions and broken promises and witnessed the results of so many failed policies that it is time our political system was reformed. We need to make the ballot more open to allow more voices and choices.
One possible solution is moving to an open primary system of selecting candidates. It has been proposed before in the Indiana General Assembly, but never has the leadership of the state Republican and Democratic parties given it a proper hearing.
I wonder how much worse the voting behavior of Indiana citizens has to be before someone in Indianapolis wakes up and smells the coffee?
What if they held an election some year and nobody came to vote?
David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer. His email address is OLDCARS55@aol.com