As someone who is heavily involved in elections, almost everyone I speak with will share their thoughts on the upcoming election. It’s often in the form of praise or critiques of the process, but the most common topic is the candidates.
What makes this year and this election feel different is the dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates. I’ve heard it described as buyer’s remorse. Democrats aren’t all that satisfied with Hillary Clinton and Republicans aren’t all that thrilled about Donald Trump. The big question is, how did we get to this point?
In August, The New York Times shared a graphic showing that “only 9% of America chose Trump and Clinton as the nominees.” Between this graphic and all the local commentary, it made me wonder, what about Idaho, where neither candidate came out ahead in this state during our primary and caucus season?
Of the 1.6 million Idahoans, only 4 percent voted for Trump or Clinton.
Often around this time, we talk about turnout and how high it’s going to be, likely near 75% of registered voters this year. In fact, in Ada County, we’re smashing records in terms of the number of people who have voted early. Despite these numbers, we still have a turnout problem.
There are 360,000 Idahoans who are eligible to vote but haven’t even taken the time to register. Add to that the 539,000 who are registered but didn’t participate in either the Republican primary or the Democratic caucus, and it’s no wonder people aren’t satisfied with the choices on the ballot. That’s more than half of our population who didn’t participate, even when we include children, felons and those not eligible to vote.
It’s one thing to feel disappointed because you are among the 10.8 percent who voted for Cruz, Sanders, Rubio or any other potential Republican nominee. At least your voice was heard. However, it’s tough to describe our current situation as buyer’s remorse when so many weren’t even shopping for a nominee last March.
It’s not just presidential elections where this matters. We vote on numerous officials and issues that hit even closer to home. If we’re going to have a voice on issues such as taxes, transportation, education, health care or any others, we have to address our participation problem. It’s not getting better with time.
Among millennials in this state, only 44.8 percent are registered to vote. That’s compared to 99 percent of those older than 70.
If we’re going to turn the tide, we’re going to have to begin approaching elections differently. Consider the tremendous turnout in early voting this year. Why not vote near where you work during lunch or between meetings? Or better yet vote on a day that fits within your busy life?
So much of how we vote is a vestige of the past. In 1845, when Congress designated Tuesday as the day we vote, it may have made sense. You needed a day to ride to the county seat to go to the polls and you couldn’t travel on Sunday, the sabbath. Today, it’s often just inconvenient. If we’re going to improve things, we don’t need an iPhone app or to vote online, we simply need to re-evaluate our practices and make them fit with our hectic schedules, just as we did in 1845. Maybe then most of us won’t wait until the very end when our choices have been narrowed to decide who will be our next president.
One of my favorite election quotes is from Abraham Lincoln, who once said: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” Based on many of the conversations I’ve had with voters this year, he may have seen this election coming.
Phil McGrane oversees elections in Ada County as the Chief Deputy Clerk.