This is written on Tuesday, Primary Election Day 2010, a day when something like 30 percent of the people registered to vote in Arizona – never mind the hundreds of thousands more who are not registered — go to the polls to make important choices about who shall lead us at the state and national levels of government.
Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez is lamenting a predicted turnout of 28 to 34 percent. She bases that upon low return of vote-by-mail ballots. "For a disappointing and unexplained reason, the return rate is much lower for this election compared to past elections," Rodriguez writes in an Aug. 21 press release.
Rodriguez sees two causes —"voter apathy," and a "growing concern for negative campaigning."
Voter apathy may be self-evident. Choices once intriguing are now foregone conclusions. The more interesting question – why are voters apathetic? Two possibilities. The primary election is too early. Move it to a date after Labor Day, when people are settled back into routines and more engaged, and we'd predict more people would vote. Second, we've made it too easy to vote in this country. Remember when "mail it in" was disparaging, describing a less-than-excellent effort? Voting is now taken for granted, just like turning on the faucet for water, or flushing the toilet to remove our wastes.
Speaking of which … Rodriguez cites "a growing concern for negative campaigning" among the voters. If that's so, it's because the modern political system now favors the sound byte over substance. We get the TV or radio or billboard or e-mailed or robo-called campaign ad that says … nothing. Negative campaigning? More like "increasingly superficial campaigning."
Jesse Kelly, the likable, arch-conservative Continental Ranch resident who has run for the Republican nomination in Congressional District 8, speaks in absolutes, as in "It's absolutely detestable what we have in Washington," or it's time to "get the government all the way out of the health care system," as he said at the Marana Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week.
There is a cynicism to Kelly's message. If the voters oust representatives with whom Kelly disagrees, they're likely to send along "the next corrupt politician" from that district, he believes. Really? Is it a given that everyone running is corrupt? Not from this seat.
"We don't need lifetime people serving in government," Kelly says, and he's right. We need smart, dedicated people who are willing to serve for a short period of time, making difficult, thoughtful decisions regardless of political consequence.
"We are blessed to have the government we deserve," Kelly says, and he's right again. If we don't show up to vote, we get what we get, decided by the people who are motivated enough to go to the polls, or to "mail it in." Voting used to be seen as the earning of a right to complain. Don't vote? Don't complain.
"You don't have to accept the candidate who stinks less," Kelly says. That means, in his view, that they all stink.
"There are excellent candidates running for elective office this political season with various political persuasion and voters should participate," Rodriguez writes.
She is correct. There are excellent candidates. And voters should participate.
It's just that, in America, you can't force them to do so.