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Where have all the voters gone?

September 17, 2006|by George Michael

Once again, following a primary election, we have a lot of hand-ringing and anguish by candidates and public officials about why so few of our citizens bother to vote.

Primary elections in Washington County seem to bring out the worst in voters, that is to say, bring out the least. In the last county wide elections four years ago, 23.9 percent of registered voters voted in the September Primary Election. That was considered pretty dismal. This year, Washington County saw a 24.7 percent turnout of registered voters. This works out to about 18 percent of the adult population in the county.

Asking citizens why they don't vote is very non-productive. It's like when someone quits a job. When asked why, they usually give some surface answer or lame excuse such as "wanting to move on" rather than the real reason.

Typical reasons advanced by voters include, "I'm too busy," "It's a waste of time," "My vote doesn't make any difference," "All politicians are the same," "It's not convenient," and yada, yada, yada. They are not likely to say, "It's way too complicated and I'm not smart enough to figure it out."

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Quick now, what delegate district are you in? Is it 2A, 2B, or 2C? My guess is not more than five people in 100 can tell you. And who is your delegate to the Maryland House? Is it Chris Shank, John Donoghue, Bob McKee, LeRoy Myers or Joe Bartlett? And who is running against Alex Mooney? And what office are they running for?

And then, just about the time you finally figure out what district you are in, they go and take a census, change the boundary lines and dump you in a new district with a new representative!

Some of you out there do know what district you are in and who your delegate is. You cheated. You just voted this week and saw their name on your ballot and thought, "Oh, that's right, I remember old what's-his-name."

Furthermore, why are you in the 2nd district of Maryland but in the 6th Congressional District? And what do the Judges of the Orphans Court really do And does it really matter to me who is the Clerk of the Court? How do I know whether they are doing a good job or not?

I could go on with a dozen more examples but you get the picture. The amount of information is overwhelming. There were 72 names on the typical Democratic ballot in our county for this primary election. How many of them did you know? Or what they believed? Or what kind of person they were? We almost have too much democracy.

Public officials keep trying to make it easier to register to vote. There are a number of ways to register today, including when you register your car or get a driver's license at the MVA. Soon we will have voter registration while you get a cup of coffee at Sheetz.

Or then there is the idea to make Election Day on a Sunday when fewer people are working and more people might have free time.

This year, Maryland Democrats came up with something called early voting. Citizens would have been able to vote over a period of six days, supposedly to help voters who can't seem to make it to the polls in a regular 13-hour election day. Republicans felt the plan was fraught with danger and would make the integrity of the system harder to insure. Even the liberal court system in Maryland could see the difficulty with this plan and threw it out.

Arizona is taking another approach. There, officials are going to give a $1 million prize to some lucky voter this year. Sounds more like the lottery to me. How pathetic is that? Do we have to resort to bribery to get people to vote? On second thought, this is not too much different than "walkaround money" given out by campaign hacks to buy booze or whatever to help voter turnout in some districts.

All of these solutions are very costly and a big waste of money. Let's admit it. The process is way too complicated, even for those who would like to participate in the system.

Many conscientious citizens do want to vote but find it hard to keep track of the offices or the various candidates and who is running for what and what the candidates believe and what is really important in any given race. It's difficult for people to keep up with it all, even when they want to be informed. It is not the voting itself that is the problem, but the process.

National polls can predict outcomes with a sample of 1,100 people if the demographics are balanced and still come within 3 percent of total accuracy if everyone were counted. This past Tuesday night at the Election Board, there was a definite trend after just 12 precincts out of 50 reported in. Nothing of significance changed in that trend even after the other 38 precincts were tallied. There is nothing to indicate that if 100 percent of our citizens voted, the results would be any different, except possibly in a few exceptional, close races.

I suppose it would be nice if more people voted. But let's not waste time getting too worked up about it. We make it easy enough to register and vote for those who will make the effort. Citizenship means owning some basic responsibility for participation. Let those who are informed enough to vote and want to make a difference go and vote. In some respects, the less turnout the better. And, it makes it easier to count the votes on election night.

George Michael is a Williamsport resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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