Apathy – it’s a disease that affects voters around election time. There’s not a lot of research as to the cause, but the results are evident: a very tiny percentage of the population ends up making choices for everyone else. Voter apathy is something that politicians and those who run elections have dealt with for years. In fact, often it is something they count on. These professionals know that if they can keep enough of their opponents’ voters at home (negative campaigns are especially helpful in this endeavor), they can get their own candidate¹’s supporters out and win a low-turnout race.
In this year’s primary election in Clark County, the turnout was one of the lowest ever, less than18 percent. That number is really tiny when you consider what it actually means. There are roughly one million people living in southern Nevada. Only 500,000 residents are even registered to vote. Of those, only 250,000 ever cast a ballot on a regular basis (and not very many of these people vote all the time). Do the math. Less than 25 percent of the population is making decisions as to who will lead our federal, state and local governments. That’s scary.
Again, political professionals count on these numbers when they devise strategies for their clients. Campaigns know they can save money by mailing literature only to those people who have shown a strong propensity to vote. These residents then become the pool of voters for many of the campaign’s activities. Why bother wasting time with someone who votes occasionally, or doesn’t vote unless it’s a presidential year? Unfortunately, we then complain when the people elected under this type of system end up in ethical quandaries or make poor decisions.
For years, officials have tried to think of ways to make casting a vote easier. Mail-in and absentee ballots are utilized for those who can’t or won’t be able to go to the polls on Election Day. A few years ago, a law was passed creating a two week “early voting” period to give people more time to cast a ballot. Mobile sites are set up at malls and other popular locations to increase voter participation. Even with all those alternatives at their disposal, only 18 percent of the people turned out during this latest primary election. That’s pathetic.
It’s illogical to think that turnout is ever going to rise that much. People are busy with their own lives, and the negativity of campaigns isn’t likely to stop any time soon, especially when it remains an effective tactic to get someone elected.
Something must change, though. There are lots of ideas, such as allowing people to vote over the Internet or wider use of mail-in ballots. Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller has been a proponent of new and innovative solutions to increase the number of people casting ballots. One concept he investigated last year was moving Nevada’s primary to earlier in the year to create some excitement during presidential elections. Nevada currently uses a caucus format to allow its political parties to voice their preference for presidential candidates. By joining with other Western states, Heller hoped to make Nevada one of the first battlegrounds for presidential hopefuls (kind of like New Hampshire and Iowa are now). The idea didn’t quite catch on, but it might in the future.
Many would decry the thought of actually making it easier to vote (you only have to do it once or twice a year as it is). But it may take innovative ideas and creative solutions to cure the dreaded disease of voter apathy.