Monday, November 20th, 2006
The dust is settling, and all speculation is about the impact of this year’s election on national and foreign policy. If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably read a lot about this year’s elections already: about your own local or state contests and the national issues that galvanized the voter base.
Without being unduly negative, it seems like a good idea to attach some numbers to the adjectival discussion of this momentous midterm. The most straightforward one is this: according to the non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE), national turnout was around 83 million this year, or 40.4% of the population. There are some interesting details: despite strong/record turnout in states like Virginia and Tennessee, not all states with hot races saw turnout bumps- Maryland, Minnesota, and Florida all reported drop-offs, despite each having competitive races. Click here to read the full report.
It’s also interesting to see what effect Montana’s experiment with EDR had. Despite causing some delays, it seems to have run very smoothly. Did it increase turnout? A look at the CSAE’s numbers casts some doubt. Montana’s turnout in 2002 (the last mid-term election) was 48.02%, compared to 55.58% in this year’s election. That’s a healthy jump of 7.56%, compared to a 0.7% increase nationally. BUT, if we compare Montana to seven other states with races that were either tight or widely publicized (Connecticut, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia), we see that they on average enjoyed a 6.55% increase in participation. Amongst that pack, then, it’s not clear that EDR had a dramatic effect.
Which isn’t to say that it’s not a good idea: even a small impact is good, so long as the integrity of the process isn’t compromised, as is any measure that makes voting more convenient for those who fulfill their civic responsibility.
What seems most important to us is to remember- amidst all the comparative values- that the numbers we’re dealing with are still very low. A look at the CSAE’s report shows that, even in states celebrating record turnout, we’re dealing with participation in the low 40- and 50-percent range. Even if one takes the higher numbers offered by political campaigns and various state offices you’re still in the same ballpark.
Bottom line: there’s still work to do. And there’s a big election in a couple of years. So we’re gonna keep on asking why, and trying to figure out how to get as many citizens into the voting booths as possible.