Elections matter. Just look at the recent Supreme Court decisions. Five Justices nominated by Republicans voted one way; four nominated by Democrats voted the other. The state legislatures have gerrymandered the districts so the party in charge stays in charge. And the U.S. House of Representatives is representative indeed – of those gerrymandered districts. This is true representative democracy at its finest. So that’s why we are in this fix.
But it didn’t have to be that way. We made it like that.
In the last presidential election only 57.5 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. That’s down from 62.3 percent in 2008. And that’s just every four years. Average turnout in non-presidential years, when one third of the Senate and 100 percent of the House are elected, runs about 41 percent, meaning nearly 60 percent stay home.
Compare this to other countries, The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm ranked the United States 139th out of 172 countries in voter turnout for parliamentary elections.
But just looking at the most recent presidential elections – and eliminating those nations with compulsory voting – we did much better, coming in at 42nd. The top five are: Rwanda, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Maldives and Sierra Leone. Even France came in way above us at 17th with 80 percent of the population going to the polls. We are down between Mongolia and the Republic of the Congo.
Why we do this to ourselves? There are many answers, some likely and others fanciful, but that’s for another blog post. Let’s just consider what this means for the United States. What did that 40 percent of registered voters who didn’t bother to vote get by staying home?
- Gridlock in Congress, with constant pressure to shut the government down altogether.
- A federal “hodgepodge” of states where gerrymandered districts create monstrous irregularities, such as anti-labor laws and non-stop actions to suppress the votes of people likely to vote against the state’s majority.
- More and more gun legislation sponsored by the NRA – despite national sentiment that shows 90 percent of Americans want expanded background checks. Even NRA members want it.
Do we have majority representation in Congress? Today there are 234 Republicans and only 199 Democrats in the House. Approximately 54-46 percent – despite the fact that Democrats won one million more votes than the GOP in the last election.
But that’s the way the system works. The United States is a federated republic. And in less vitriolic times that seemed to work better than it does today. But that’s then and this is now and we are living in a very fractious era.
We have done this to ourselves. We have achieved this morass by failing to care enough about the issues to do something about it. Even the smallest thing. Voting. People who care about issues vote. Otherwise, as Count Joseph de Maistre said about Russia in 1811:
“Every nation gets the government it deserves.”