By Stephen Waguespack
A big election was held this weekend, though the numbers don’t show it.
Only 38.5 percent of registered voters showed up and voted in Saturday’s election for governor. That’s right, 38.5 percent. This, after countless candidate forums, debates, articles, commercials, mailers, Facebook posts and yard signs along every street that constantly reminded us for the last several months that this election was taking place.
Why do so many seem to care so little about voting these days?
Many will spend hours staring at their phones reading propaganda and political ramblings on social media, sometimes even taking the time to add their own two cents on the viral topic of the day. Yesterday’s political conversations around the water cooler or fence post are today’s cyber chat rooms and blogs, leaving no shortage of opportunities for us all to share passionate diatribes about the direction of our state and country. Everyone has a position on every topic these days and most are quite willing to periodically relay it to the world via the Internet.
As a society, we all have strong viewpoints and we tend to share them every day. But for some reason, many registered voters end up taking a pass on the one day we designate every few years to turn those opinions into a specific action.
Last November, 51.5 percent of registered voters turned out to vote in the U.S. Senate primary election, though only 43.6 percent showed up in the general election one month later to elect then-Congressman Bill Cassidy as our newest U.S. Senator.
This year, we didn’t come close to hitting that mark on the governor’s race and the numbers were even worse for down-ballot races. While 38.5 percent voted for governor, and despite already being behind the curtain in the voting booth, some of those that showed up apparently lost interest after that initial vote.
This year, only 37.5 percent voted for lieutenant governor, 36 percent for secretary of state, 36.8 percent for attorney general, 34 percent for treasurer, 35.8 percent for agriculture commissioner and 36.2 percent for insurance commissioner.
Even much discussed issues like education reform, the state budget and transportation funding didn’t prove to be a strong motivator for potential voters.
Let’s take a closer look at K-12 education as an example. Reforms to improve our schools, passed in 2012, have garnered national praise, improved student performance and continue to challenge the status quo in our state. While we are starting to see promising student success due to these efforts, this debate continues to dominate the front pages. This ongoing transition has at times complicated political alliances, discouraged some of our hardest working teachers and frustrated many parents that simply want the best for their children.
Despite this well-chronicled angst, the average turnout for Saturday’s election for the eight open seats on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) was only 33.9 percent. Reform candidates won six of these seats outright, defeating two incumbent BESE members who have fought against parental choice and school accountability throughout their term. Two races have gone to a run-off, where reform-minded candidates are well positioned to aggressively compete in those seats as well.
Legislative races also saw a low turnout from voters, a surprising fact considering the new Legislature will be called to a special session in January in order to address our ongoing state budget challenge. This pending effort will leave many voters vulnerable to new taxes, many sacred cows exposed to the butcher and many critical priorities susceptible to alteration. Despite this reality, turnout was low for these races also.
Eighteen Louisiana Senate seats were on the ballot this Saturday and the average turnout for those races was 36.2 percent. At least three of those races had turnout percentages in the forties, led by the 46.1 percent of registered voters that turned out in the 2nd Senatorial District.
Fifty-two House seats were on the ballot as well, and the average turnout was 37.4 percent for those races. Embarrassingly, eight of those races had a voter turnout in the twenties. The 87th Representative District had a turnout of only 21 percent. A positive outlier was the 60th Representative District, which had the only Legislative or statewide elected office with a turnout above 50 percent (57.1 percent).
Four Constitutional Amendments were also considered this Saturday. Two of these amendments dealt with transportation funding, a topic that is one of the most urgent facing our state. Polls and surveys consistently rank roads and infrastructure as one of the top issues of concern to our people. None of the four amendments received a higher voting percentage than 36.2 percent.
I am sure everyone has their own reason for not voting. We all have valid competing interests for our time and attention. Some will say the candidates themselves were the problem, or possibly the negative tone of the political advertising. Others will cite their belief that nothing will change as their motivator for staying home. And yes, some will simply blame it on the rain that blanketed Louisiana most of the day.
Regardless of your reason, it is important to fight through that obstacle on November 21. In only one month, we have a chance for redemption. We can show up in larger numbers and prove the skeptics wrong that feel the majority of registered voters have lost interest in maximizing one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans.
Next month, I strongly suggest you show up to do your part. On November 21, there are no mulligans. There are no second (or third) chances. What you see when the polls close is what you get for the next four years.
At that moment, don’t be one of those registered voters blaming someone or something else for not voting. Control your own destiny, rather than letting others do so for you. The stakes are too high, and the results are entirely in your control.