Tag Archives: voter turnout

Turnout spikes dramatically; democracy wins!

The official totals have yet to be tabulated, but the turnout in this week’s midterm election suggests that democracy has emerged as the big winner.

I won’t discuss the Democrats’ net gain to grab control of the U.S. House of Representatives, or the Republicans’ maintaining their control of the U.S. Senate, or the results of the various governors’ races around the country.

More than 100 million Americans cast ballots for all 435 House races and for one-third of the 100-member Senate. The number is increasing as ballots continue to be counted in places like Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

This is a good deal, man! It’s so good that my faith in our representative democratic form of government is being restored a little at a time.

Texas, where I live, long has been considered an abysmal example of voter apathy. Our turnouts for presidential and off-year elections generally has been among the worst in the nation. This year we had more than 8 million votes cast for races up and down the political food chain. The number of ballots counted for the midterm rivaled the number cast in the 2016 presidential election.

I long have argued that our system of government works better when more of us — not fewer of us — get involved. The most basic, the simplest form of political involvement starts at the polling place.

Arguably the height of political frustration occurs when we let our neighbors make critical decisions for us. Our neighbors might agree with us, or they might disagree with us. That’s a gamble I am unwilling to take.

I am glad to presume that in this election cycle, more Americans have reached the same conclusion, that they aren’t willing to leave these decisions to someone else.

Our votes matter a lot … always!

It looks as though there well might be a record voter turnout for a midterm election in Texas, based on the early vote totals being recorded across the state.

Does that diminish the individual value of Texans’ vote? Not in the least.

We all know about tiny jurisdictions where races for public office — say, school board or city council — are decided by a vote or two. A rural Texas community can elect governing councils from a total of perhaps 20 or 30 votes. You know your vote counts in that context.

Let’s broaden our horizon, shall we? Texas is going to take part on Nov. 6 in electing all 36 members of the House of Representatives and one of two members of the U.S. Senate. A number of those races are bound to be close, too close to call, within the margin of polling error. We’ll also have a number of state offices to decide.

The number of total votes cast in those races figures to be huge. That doesn’t diminish the value of our votes, yours and mine.

Then we have the county races and state legislative contests that voters will decide. Our votes count there, too.

Will there be runaways? Sure. The way I look at it, even if you cast your ballot for the candidate who loses an election by a huge margin, you still get to have your voice heard. To my way of thinking, that vote gives you an extra measure of credibility if you choose to gripe publicly about how the winner of that race is doing his or her job on your behalf.

The Texas Tribune reports that after five days of early voting, 2.14 million Texans have cast ballots. We have until the end of this week to vote early. Don’t expect the numbers to double the total of early votes, but we’re going to finish the early-vote period with a tremendous spike from the 2014 midterm election.

Do not think for an instant that the huge number diminishes the value of your individual ballot. Even statewide contests in a state as large as Texas can be decided by a single vote.

We’re sitting out these important decisions

What do you know about that? I have known for a long time that Amarillo, Texas, where I used to live wasn’t the only city that produced pitiful municipal voter turnouts.

I have bitched about it for a couple of decades, trying — using my forum as editorial page editor of the local newspaper — to reverse that trend. It fell on blind eyes.

Hey, it could get worse. Amarillo could be as non-involved in this most important civic act as Dallas, just down the highway from where my wife and I now reside.

An analysis in the Dallas Morning News tells me that Dallas delivers the worst municipal voter turnout among the nation’s largest cities. How do Dallas residents do? Six percent of them vote on average for election of the mayor and city council members. Six percent!

I’ll take some pride in revealing that my hometown, Portland, Ore., votes on average at a 59 percent clip in municipal elections.

Dang, man! Why can’t we get more of us to the polls at these local elections, the elections that determine who runs local government, the level of government that has the most direct impact on our lives?

It’s not as though Texas doesn’t do what it can to make it easy for us to vote. We can vote early. The state opens up many venues for Texans to cast their ballots early. Still, I have laughed virtually out loud over many years when I hear local election officials brag about the large number of early ballots being cast … as if that means a greater voter turnout. It usually means nothing of the sort. It only means that more people are voting early, period.

As Michael Lindenberger writes in the Dallas Morning News:

Some studies have even suggested that voting makes citizens healthier, and not just because they can influence health policy. Voting itself, as proof of civic engagement, boosts one’s health, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

More than that, even, a city that relies on only a tiny fraction of its residents to vote leaves our leaders operating on such pencil-thin support it’s a wonder they are able to be effective at all. 

Take Mayor Mike Rawlings. He was elected for his second term in 2015 on a huge margin, but with just a bit over 30,000 votes. That’s in America’s ninth-largest city, anchor to the fourth-largest urban area in the nation.

That’s ridiculous. A second term for 30,000 votes and change? What happened to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters?

This guy is speaking my language. It’s ridiculous, indeed!

I have tried to point out over many years that sitting out these important local elections leaves important public policy decisions up to the guy next door, or the dude down the street, someone who might — or might not — share your view of how your community should be governed.

Time to change this dismal voter participation

I applaud the Morning News for bringing this issue to the fore.

Will it matter? Will it bring more voters to the polls next spring when we elect our municipal officials in Texas? Probably not, but man, it needs to be said over and over again.

More voters means better government … always!

Barack H. Obama gave a speech today that touched on a subject I have tried to make over many years while I worked as a print journalist in Amarillo and Beaumont, Texas and back in my home state of Oregon.

I won’t presume to believe the 44th president of the United States got the idea directly from me. Nevertheless, I’ll take a bit of ownership of the idea he put forward.

He implored young people in his audience to “vote,” to take part in the political process if only just be ensuring that they cast their ballots. “Don’t think your vote doesn’t matter,” Obama said, noting that he he was able to win two presidential elections by narrowly carrying many voting precincts or congressional districts across the land.

I’m going to steer away from the partisan nature of what the former president said, concentrating instead on the bigger picture.

For decades I sought to boost voter turnout by imploring voters to follow this simple creed: Don’t let your neighbor — who might or not agree with your political leanings — decide who should represent you in government. I ran out of ways to say the same thing. Yes, I repeated myself. I’m likely doing so here … right now!

Texas remains one of the nation’s most miserable examples of representative democracy. Our voter turnout at every level — from the presidential level on down — habitually ranks at or near the bottom of all 50 states. Think of that: Texans protect the right to vote on many issues and for many candidates; yet when given the chance to vote, too many of us stay home.

The former president spoke a tremendous truth today to those students in Illinois. They need to take part. They need to become the solution to what they believe is wrong with our political system today. The simplest way to do so, in the former president’s words, is to exercise their right to vote. Cast a ballot, man!

So, thank you, Mr. President, for elevating my message to the national stage.

Why not ‘celebrate’ Election Day?

This isn’t an original thought but I am going to pitch it here with vigor. Election Day should be an event Americans should commemorate, indeed even celebrate.

Thus, I am leaning heavily toward proposing a national holiday for the day we go to the polls to elect the leader of our government. I make this pitch partly out of frustration as well.

I spent a lot of years as a journalist trying to boost voter turnout on Election Day. It was an exercise in futility. I ran out of ways to say the same thing. We cheered when turnout at the national level exceeded, say, 55 percent when we chose our president. I consider that to be a disgraceful turnout. Fifty-five percent turnout among all Americans who are eligible to vote? That means more than 40 percent of those Americans don’t bother to cast their ballot.

Here’s my thought: Make Election Day every two years a national holiday. I include the midterm congressional election as deserving of this extra attention.

Why don’t people vote? I guess it’s for a variety of reasons. Frustration with the choices. A feeling that their vote doesn’t matter. Not enough time.

Ah, about that last item. The time element can be fixed by declaring a national holiday. Give working Americans the day off from work, the way we do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day.

We can remove one key barrier from Americans who might want to vote, but who say they don’t have the time, that their bosses won’t allow them to take a few moments to go cast their ballots.

I understand fully that we cannot give everyone a day off from work on Election Day. Medical personnel, police officers, firefighters, public utility workers all need to be on the job.

I much prefer the national holiday idea to other efforts to boost turnout, such as mail-in voting. I have noted many times already that I like the ritual associated with going to the polls, of waiting in line, of kibitzing with fellow voters. Mail-only voting has boosted turnout in many states — such as my home state of Oregon. I stand by my preference, though, to cast my ballot in a polling place.

I live in state, Texas, with a shamefully pitiful voting turnout. We tend to vote on everything here, so there might be some voter fatigue that suppresses turnout. I don’t know how to deal with that.

However, I want there to be a national push — for the midterm election and for the presidential election — to give this process the level of veneration it deserves.

Declaring Election Day to be a national holiday might do the trick.

Every vote counts … in a big way!

Just when you thought your vote didn’t count …

Get a load of what happened in Virginia.

That state’s House of Delegates has flipped from Republican control to a 50-50 partisan deadlock on the basis of a single vote in a race for one of the delegate seats.

Incumbent Delegate David Yancey, a Republican, held a 10-vote lead in the race for his seat against Democrat Shelly Simonds. So they launched a recount as required under state law. They counted the ballots and Simonds has emerged the winner — by a single ballot. Simonds won with 11,608 votes to Yancey’s 11,607.

The GOP held a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates. It’s now 50-50, or at least it will be when they certify the result of the recount. Virginia has no tie-breaking process in its House of Delegates. If one should occur on a piece of legislation, there needs to be some sort of power-sharing arrangement that the two parties will need to work out.

There is a huge lesson here. I’ve heard gripes over many years covering elections as a journalist from those who say “Why vote? My vote doesn’t matter. It doesn’t count.” These bystanders leave critical public policy decisions to others.

Locally, here in Amarillo, dismal voter turnouts long ago became the norm, to the voting public’s ever-lasting shame.

Does your vote matter? Does it count?

Uh, yeah. It does. In a major way. The balance of power in one of our states has just flipped because of a single ballot.

Trying to gin up voter turnout for May election

Back when I was working for a living as editorial page editor for two newspapers in Texas, one of my ongoing tasks was to boost voter turnout for municipal elections.

For the most part, I butted my head bloody — figuratively, of course — trying to get residents in Beaumont and then in Amarillo to get off their duffs and cast their ballots.

I no longer work for a living, but I cannot put my desire to boost voter turnout to rest. That’s what this blog is all about

Amarillo is going to the polls on May 6. The city is going to produce another new City Council majority, with three incumbents choosing not to seek new terms. One of them is the mayor, Paul Harpole; the other two are City Councilwoman Lisa Blake and Councilman Randy Burkett.

That’s three out of five seats that will welcome new occupants. Change is afoot.

How will Amarillo voters respond? Since I no longer predict anything political, I’ll refrain from doing so here. If history is any guide, we are headed for another dismal turnout in a couple of months.

Single-digit percentage turnouts have occurred frequently during the 22 years I’ve been watching municipal elections in Amarillo. Oh sure, occasionally we get a “spike” into the 20 and 30 percent range. Those events occur usually when we have much-hyped and ballyhooed ballot measures.

Do you recall the two efforts to ban smoking indoors, both of which were defeated? Or how about the 2015 multipurpose event venue vote, which approved the MPEV? In 1996, Amarillo voted in favor of a resolution to sell the publicly owned Northwest Texas Hospital to a private health-care provider.

They all produced greater-than-normal turnouts. Were they great, as in great? My recollection is that the first smoking ban vote attracted a 30-percent turnout. Thirty percent is nothing to brag about. It means that seven out of 10 registered voters sat on the sidelines. Shameful!

At the risk of repeating myself, I am going to remind readers of this blog who happen to live in Amarillo of this fundamental truth.

It is that local elections matter in a tangible way far more than votes for president or members of Congress; they matter more than votes for governor; the Legislature, though, is a different matter, as our legislators decide on bills that could have an impact on our community.

City Hall is where these issues matter. It also matters who we elect to decide them. They set our local tax rates. They decide how many cops we have patrolling our streets. They determine the level of fire protection we get. They ensure our water flows, our lights shine and garbage gets picked up.

The municipal ballot will decide who fills all five of our City Council seats. All of those positions have contested races on the ballot.

Are we going to vote? Or are we going to let our neighbors — some of whom we might detest — decide who makes these policies for us?

It’s your call. I’ll remind you later to be sure to vote.

Dismal voter turnout is no sign of satisfaction

I’ve written about this before, but I cannot say it enough.

Amarillo’s history of dismal voter turnouts is no endorsement of how well the city is being run. It’s more basic than that. It just pure apathy. We don’t care.

The city is tracking toward another municipal election. Filing for the five City Council seats has begun. It will end on Feb. 17. My trick knee tells me the ballot will be full, that all five council seats will have multiple candidates vying for election to the governing board that pays its occupants a whopping $10 per public meeting.

I’ve been watching Amarillo’s municipal elections for 22 years. Most of that time was spent as a working journalist, as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I have lamented, scolded and cajoled Amarillo residents to turn out to vote for these races.

Most years residents have ignored my entreaties. I don’t take the rejection personally.

They’ve registered often in the mid to high single-digit percentages. When we put ballot measures up for decision from time to time, the turnout spikes dramatically. My favorite example was the 1996 vote to sell the publicly owned Northwest Texas Hospital to a private health care provider; 22 percent of voters turned out for that one and you’d have thought — listening to city officials — that they’d just discovered a cure for the common cold.

I chose at the time to look a good bit more dimly at the turnout, noting that four out of five voters stayed away from the polls.

My question always has been: Do these dismal turnouts reflect some sort of endorsement of the way City Hall is being run? I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case. I do, though, believe in the human trait to respond more vigorously to negativity than to positivity.

My initial hope for this next election is that, given what I expect to be a ballot full of candidates, the turnout far exceeds what’s become a sad norm in Amarillo. My other hope, of course, is that the election produces victories for the right candidates. I’ll have more to say later on who I think should win.

Today, though, my target is that turnout matter. Historically in this city, it stinks. I want residents to wipe away the odor by voting in large numbers.

Representative democracy works better when more people — not fewer of them — take part.

I’ve noted this, too, before: Why would anyone want to leave the choices for the people who set their property tax rates to someone else? We all have a stake in these local elections and it is incumbent on all of us  to have our voices heard.

Early vote record produces a mixed result

voting

Let’s crunch some numbers from the presidential election.

I want to examine briefly the record-setting early-vote totals in one Texas county — the one where I live — and try to determine if it meant a greater overall turnout.

Randall County voted 80 percent in favor of the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. That’s the least surprising result, given the county’s strong GOP tradition. You can’t find a Democratic candidate running for anything in this county. Indeed, the loneliest job in America — next, perhaps, to the Maytag repairman — might be Randall County’s Democratic chair.

The county registered more than 43,000 early votes prior to the Nov. 8 election. In 2012, a total of about 49,600 voters cast ballots in the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney; captured the Randall County vote by an even greater percentage than Trump did.

This year, the unofficial vote total for Randall County sits at 54,185. That’s an increase of about 5,000 votes from four years ago.

The county had about 85,000 registered voters this year, which puts the percentage turnout at about 63 percent.

To that I would say, “Not bad at all.” Of course, the number goes down when you factor in the total number of eligible voters, which includes those who aren’t registered to vote.

What does all this mean?

http://uselectionatlas.org/2016.php

I guess it means that the record number of early voters did translate into a ginned-up interest in this election — much to my own surprise. I had thought the election would produce a dismally low turnout, even in this GOP-friendly region.

Still, the percentage of turnout across the state remains far short of anything to boast about. The national turnout appears headed for a 20-year low.

I am delighted that Texas makes it so easy for residents to vote early. I remain dedicated, though, to the idea of waiting until Election Day to cast my ballot.

For those who did vote early — and to those who perhaps voted for the first time — congratulations and well done.

 

Let’s hope big early vote equals big overall vote

early-vote

Texas elections officials are beside themselves.

Early voting is setting records throughout the state, they say. In the part of the state where I live — the Panhandle — Potter County elections officials also report record turnout for the early vote.

Now, the question: Does the big early vote translate to a larger overall vote? My concern is that record-setting early vote means only that more Texans are voting early … period!

We hear similar reports around the country, where state and local elections officials are crowing about all this early-vote interest.

What in the world is driving it?

Well, I suppose it might have something to do with the news of late this past week, with FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that he might have some more information to reveal about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail controversy. Legal experts across the spectrum do not anticipate any penalty will come Clinton’s way. The focus now appears to be on Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged dirtbag husband — Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner and his hideous sexting scandal.

Democrats want voters to cast ballots early — perhaps before they change their mind. Republicans are seizing on it, too, before more stuff comes out about their nominee, Donald J. Trump.

As for the Texas turnout, the Lone Star State generally ranks among the poorest turnout states in the country.

I thought early on that because of the two major-party candidates’ low esteem among voters that this year’s presidential election turnout might set an all-time low.

I would be delighted to be wrong about that prediction, too.