It’s the Thursday after the 2011 elections. It wasn’t a note worthy election, but I guess that’s the problem. The 2011 election, like so many non-Presidential elections or midterm elections got only a small amount of news media coverage and small voter turnout. Yet, really important legislation and the fates of elected bodies were decided. In Michigan, for example, a sitting Michigan House Representative was recalled. The decision that a sitting elected official was no longer fit to serve in office is not a trivial matter, but this was decided by approximately 17% of the electorate. The city of Lansing elected two City Council members with just 19% of the electorate voting. These numbers, on their own, are not too troubling. We all have the right to vote, and we also all have the right to choose not to vote. The issue is that these elections have as much power as the presidential elections when it comes to consequences. The Mississippi “personhood” bill was defeated, but I wonder how strategic the timing of an off year election was in determining when to bring that up for a vote? In 2008 56.8% of all Americans voted for president. The majority of them selected Barack Obama to be the President of the United States. In 2010, 37.8% voted and the majority of that minority of Americans essentially gridlocked the Federal government by electing a majority of Republicans to Congress. What the majority of Americans voted for was undone, in essence, by a minority of highly motivated Americans. I’m not blaming those that vote, however. It’s important. I vote in every election and I encourage everyone I know to vote in every election, even if it doesn’t “matter” because you won’t win. Winning isn’t always the point. Voting and providing that level of feedback to elected officials is the point. When only 37.8 of people show up at the polls, you’re disproportionately empowering some over others. The reason why inequality persists in this nation is because those with the means are those that do the voting. It’s not the government that the people should be worried about, it’s their fellow Americans that vote. They’re the “elite” minority, not the politicians that are elected.
Granted, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The politicians we elect are the elite and they seldom know or care about “the little guy.” But we put them there. And in off year elections, like 2011, “we the people” is a pretty small group. Yet those elections carry just as much weight. If turnout rates were consistent, I would be happier. Inconsistent turnout privileges people like me who always votes while punishing people that occasionally do. More concerning is that the wealthiest Americans tend to vote more often than the rest of us. We shouldn’t be surprised that our system supports them above all others.
This post was a little ranty, I’ll try to be more social scientist next time around. This just really bugged me.