According to an article in today’s SA Express-News, early voting for the City Council races has been abysmal, especially from young people. Going into the last day of early voting, only 25,466 people have voted. That’s not very many out of 600,000 eligible voters – about 4%. Unfortunately, that number and percentage is very comparable to the results in the previous city election in 2011, when the election-day votes pushed the final numbers to 42,000 votes or 7% of the eligible voters.
Naturally, this abysmal performance induces hand-wringing. Both of my opponents in District 8 were quoted in the Express-News article as expressing concern and disappointment about the low turnout, but they apparently weren’t pressed for a solution.
An article on the same subject appeared today in The Rivard Report, and Rivard has a solution, especially for young people. According to Rivard, young people are variously apathetic, too busy, or disillusioned by negative campaigning, but they might be persuaded to vote it if were more convenient – i.e., voting through a mobile device.
After making this suggestion, Rivard felt it necessary to add, “Seriously,” as if we might think he was only joking. I didn’t for an instant think he was joking. For mostly partisan reasons, progressives have traditionally wanted to make voting easier while conservatives have wanted to make it more difficult. We can deduce from these respective positions that the people who are easily discouraged from voting tend to vote Democratic.
Because I am mostly a conservative, I understand that I might be favoring the stricter voting requirements because I’m being partisan. But my nonpartisan political philosophy is also in favor of strict voting requirements. I like motivated, informed voters. I don’t want to respond to apathetic, too busy, disillusioned voters with a band-aid that merely masks the symptoms of an underlying problem.
So, how do we solve the underlying problem, how do we get people wanting to vote? Although the Express-News reporter did not see fit to press Nirenberg or Briones on this issue, they were asked that question by a student at a candidate forum at UTSA about a month ago. In fact, the student specifically asked what we candidates planned to do to address young-voter apathy.
The student’s question fits the category of what I call left-field questions – i.e., ones that we hadn’t previously received and about which we probably haven’t given much, if any, thought. After the UTSA forum, I remember commenting that we received more left-field questions than at any other forum. Although I don’t remember how the other candidates responded, I think Briones might have made a solid conservative reference to personal responsibility. And when it was my turn to answer, I said something about offering the young voters a choice who is different than the typical establishment candidates who have mortgaged their campaigns to special interests.
In hindsight, I realize that my answer was, at best, a response to the disillusionment issue mentioned by Rivard. It does not address the problem of apathetic people. I have lots of friends who don’t vote because (a) they don’t care very much about government issues or (b), according to them, their votes don’t make a difference.
I can’t think of any simple lever to pull to change that attitude. I like to say that the unexamined life is not worth living, but it is a long-term process in getting more people to live examined lives. With respect to voting, the best we can do is encourage people to maintain or develop the sort of attitude that Rivard refers to – i.e., the attitude that you will vote because that is what good citizens do. And before going into a voting booth, good citizens take it upon themselves to understand the issues and develop opinions.