There isn’t much good news these days coming from the political world. But the 2018 mid-term election results show hopeful signs that for the first time in many years, voters on both sides of the political aisle have finally decided to set aside reading their emails and are casting their ballots in record numbers.
Generally, the voter turnout in presidential years is massive. The number of people who voted in 2012 and 2016 was impressive but Americans shouldn’t spend too much time patting themselves on the back. The turnout of voters in those years was roughly 30 percent of the eligible population, so there is a lot more effort needed to get more people to exercise this constitutional right.
While it will take weeks and possibly a month before all of the key elections around the country are decided, the trends are encouraging. Based on early voting around the country, more women, first time voters and millennials decided to participate, and many stay at home voters decided it was also time to show up and vote. Almost every polling place around the state reported record numbers of voters turning out but the results were not anywhere near presidential year participation.
It would be easy to blame the 70 percent of non-voters and call them lazy, but there are many reasons they don’t or can’t participate. New York’s voting laws are archaic and attempts to increase voter turnout have been thwarted by various special interest groups. More than 20 states are doing everything in their power to discourage people from voting. Under the guise of preventing fraud, these states require complex forms of identification and reduce the number of polling places to make it inconvenient for people to get to.
In Georgia, where the candidate for the U.S. Senate also happens to be the Secretary of State, multiple efforts were made to stop minorities from casting their ballot. In North Dakota, in an effort to discourage Native Americans, the election officials insisted that every voter have a street address. In that state, the Native Americans primarily have post office boxes as they do not have home mail delivery.
If you examine why there is heavy voting in states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, you will find that they allow early balloting and provide ample facilities for voters that are open on weekends and evenings. Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, conduct all elections by mail. It is no surprise that on election night in those states, the voting results come in quickly.
There is a ray of hope that next year New York state will join other parts of the country and change the voting laws that depress turnout. With Democrats controlling both houses of the legislature, there are early signs that the 2019 legislature will spring into action and pass such badly needed reforms as early voting and automatic registration at motor vehicle bureaus. It also might not be a bad idea if the state prevented minor political parties from exercising so much influence over the nomination process.
There is no question that this year’s election was unique from the standpoint of the voters being anxious to get their grievances off their chests. Usually the events in Washington do not impact on years when there is a governor’s race. But anger at the president and the policies of the U.S. Congress were more than enough to create those long lines that we experienced.
Whether this year’s unhappiness will spill over into 2020 is an open question. Assuming President Trump is in office and seeks another term, there will be many people who would be anxious to express their views on that subject. But we will still lose the battle to encourage turnout, unless we pass meaningful voting laws in New York. In addition, it wouldn’t hurt if a few of the backward states were stopped dead by the courts, each time they tried to disenfranchise their voters.