In June, I worked the polls for the first time, and in July, I agreed to work again for the run-off. With two days of experience, I’m no seasoned veteran, but I’ve gotten a glimpse of the workings that adds to my admittedly layman’s understanding of politics and elections . . . There’s a lot to think about.
I saw in news articles prior to the July run-off that Alabama has 2.85 million registered voters, and the secretary of state expected 5% voter turnout for a runoff that would cost the state about $3 million. Back in June, my understanding was that turnout was around 22% for the primary, which is normal apparently, and that election of course cost millions of dollars, too. As will the November general election.
In a state that claims to value fiscal conservatism and “being good stewards of the people’s money,” Alabama’s voter turnout doesn’t reflect that ideal. The state is spending millions on elections and often a majority of voters aren’t showing up. That would be like buying groceries and leaving them in the car to spoil.
Here’s a breakdown of what bothers me: with 4.83 million people in Alabama, the 2.85 million registered voters constitute 59% of the state’s population. Getting a little more accurate, 2013 census estimates state that 1.2 million people are ages 19 or under, so realistically the number of registered voters is 2.85 million out of about 3.6 million adults, which would mean that nearly 80% of adults in Alabama are registered to vote. Now . . . if voter turnout is 20% in the primaries, then 20% of 80% of adult citizens are choosing who will be on the November ballot. Effectively, about 16% of Alabama’s adults – 1 in 8 – are coming out in the summer, every other year, to make these important decisions. Because that 16% is divided between two political parties – you can’t vote in both primaries, of course – the sad fact is that less than 10% of the state’s adults grant candidates the privilege of serious consideration for state office. Even if turnout is closer to 60% in November, the choices are already wheedled down by the primaries and good people may have already been cut.
When talking about voting, I often hear people say they don’t vote because, when they do, they don’t even know who the people are, or they don’t even know what the constitutional amendments are about. My response is always the same: why not? I hear people say that they don’t like making uninformed decisions, and they are scared of voting for the “wrong” person, so they just don’t go. I have to ask: did you spend any time trying to research and find out? When election time gets close, sample ballots are available online by local election officials, and it can’t be too hard to Google the names on the sample ballots.
Voting is a privilege that people have been hurt and killed for. Fifty years ago, the Freedom Summer volunteers braved real intimidation and violence to improve voting rights for people there. It doesn’t take that long to download a sample ballot and research the candidates. It doesn’t take that long to vote. American democracy is worth it.