Tuesday, Nov. 7, is Election Day.
And, sadly, if history is any indication, more than half of the voters will stay at home.
This is not a presidential year, so there are no rock stars like Hillary of Trump driving people to the polls — out of adoration or abhorrence. It’s not even a gubernatorial year, or a state legislative year. Even in 2016, when two of the most polarizing politicians in recent memory squared off, just 55 percent of those eligible to vote actually made it to the polls.
The highest turnout since 1996 was in 2008, when the electric campaign of Barack Obama helped convince 63.8 percent of those eligible to actually show up and vote.
That number is still pathetic, but it’s higher than what the turnout will be this year.
It’s an off year, and as local as local elections get. It’s proven time and again the masses don’t care about the layer of government that has a far larger direct impact on their daily lives than Hillary or Trump. Property taxes, paving roads, parks and recreation and public safety are all done at the local level — not from Washington.
And yet, more than half of the people will stay home. Historically, if turnout is higher than 40 percent, it’s considered a good year.
One way to fix that disturbing statistic is to make voting mandatory. Either show up to fulfill your civic responsibility and vote or pay a fine. Not a huge fine, but one that would make it worth a voter’s time and effort to get to the polls. In Australia, where turnout routinely hovers around 90 percent for all elections, if you don’t vote you get fined $25.
Some 27 countries around the globe make voting compulsory. Some carry penalties, like fines or imprisonment, for not voting and some don’t. Some enforce it while others don’t. More than 170 countries do not make voting a mandatory responsibility of citizenship.
There are some drawbacks. The most glaring is that making a person go to the polls infringes on their right to not vote for anyone should they so choose. That is easily remedied, though, by having a “none of the above” option for any or all races.
Another is the danger of random voting, or people showing up and just pulling any lever, or voting for one race and leaving the others blank to avoid a fine. Enough of that happens already, we think, and with compulsory voting it stands an equal likelihood of decreasing than increasing.
We think, if everyone was forced to vote, more people would pay attention to the issues and the people running for an office would make decisions on behalf of the voters.
Think of how that must scare those running for office. That’s why it will never happen in this country.
Too many politicians and their operatives don’t want people to pay attention, real attention, anyway. They prefer to control the message through sound bites on Twitter or the bullet points of a palm card or the pieces of campaign literature that fill mailboxes every fall.
An informed electorate who will vote is a politician’s worst nightmare — a bad politician, anyway. Those running with the right state of heart and mind, who have good ideas and are true public servants just looking to give back to the community will probably like the idea.
That’s why we urge you to pick up a newspaper, any newspaper, and do some reading between now and Nov. 7. Determine on your own who is worthy of your support — that is your choice, not ours — and then go vote.
Not because you have to, regrettably, but because it does matter.