Increasing Voter Turnout and Restoring Democracy

George Wenschhof

After a week of early voting opportunity, Maryland voters have one last chance to cast their ballot on Tuesday June 24.  Polls across the state will be open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

Unfortunately, apathy continues to prevail and the anticipated turnout is expected to be low.  If, I were a betting man, I would predict a turnout around 35%.

Why turnout is expected to be low is an important discussion and one that needs to happen, not just in Maryland, but across the country.

In Maryland, the moving of the primary date from early September to June, after school is out will be questioned.

However, looking at past primary turnout in Maryland reveals a less than 40% turnout is commonplace.

In light of a full week of early voting with multiple polling locations statewide, if low turnout does result, a more in depth review must take place.

Underlying low turnout in America is likely the result of an overall distrust in government.

State legislatures, dominated by Republicans or Democrats have been gerrymandering districts to favor their respective party for decades.

The resulting “safe” seat ensures their party is represented in state legislatures and in congress.

Often, the low turnout in primaries is heavily made up of engaged activists who are motivated to vote.

These small number of progressive or conservative activists determine the winner in the primary and with the seat considered “safe” that candidate often goes on to win the general election.

The result has been a gridlocked and polarized congress with elected Democrats and Republicans strongly infused with ideology.

Absent today in Congress, is the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a pragmatic group of representatives that were strong when President Bill Clinton was in office.  It was the DLC along with the shrewdness of Clinton, who helped move his agenda forward in a Republican congress.

The strategy used by many presidential candidates to run in the primary to the left if you are a Democrat and run to the right if you are a Republican with the candidates then delicately moving closer to the center as they campaign in the general election, when more voters weigh in, has become commonplace.

Today, restoring belief and faith in government is paramount to restoring democracy.

One step toward restoring faith would be to end politicians determining their voters.  Nonpartisan committees should be established by legislatures in all states across the country to determine redistricting, if called for by the census.

Another signal of the distrust in government is the fastest growing segment of voters across the country is unaffiliated voters.

This has been going on for some time now, yet a viable third party, prevalent in most other representative democracies across the world, is unable to take hold in the United States.

Making it easier for a third party to become established should be examined seriously with recommendations implemented.

The staggering amount of money in politics is the third area that must be addressed.  Political committees, emboldened by recent Supreme Court decisions are pumping unprecedented sums of money into races all over the country.

The ability of those with wealth to have more influence on an election than those who are poor, tears at the very core of democracy, where one vote should not be more powerful than another.

History teaches us representative democracy is not easy and will often be tested.  However, the U.S. constitution fortunately offers the best framework for representative democracy that exists today.

Working within that framework to restore trust and belief in voters is also vital.

Establishing nonpartisan committees to handle redistricting in states across the country, providing an easier path to establish a viable third party and getting the money out of politics would be an excellent start at restoring trust.

Maybe then, voters would begin electing leaders who are able to bring Americans together to develop a shared vision and sustainable future for local communities and the country.

Stay tuned.

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