I know self-government can be a messy thing. I’m well aware of Winston Churchill’s statement that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
But why is it that every time I voted Nov. 7, I felt like I needed another shower? (What? You don’t vote early and often?) Well, the bad news is that the next campaign cycle began Nov. 8. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be Groundhog Day all over again.
Let’s start with the ads. Would any of you authorize a single dime of your marketing budget to be spent on ads that actually turned people off from buying your product?
Seriously. Imagine what would happen if these commercials filled the airwaves:
TV commercial comes on, showing a grainy black-and-white photo of a crash site, with ominous music beneath the baritone voiceover:
“Nowhere Air wants you
to believe it can take a 136-ton steel tube, load it with 250 people, 11,500 gallons of jet fuel and way too much carry-on luggage, and make it fly through the air-but whom are they trying to kid? They sure couldn’t do that when Flight 666 crashed into a mountain in 1985. Can you really trust Nowhere Air not to crash your plane the next time you fly with them?”
Next commercial has the same kind of graphics, music and voice, only more sinister:
“Nowhere Air is being smeared with vicious lies. We haven’t crashed a plane in more than 20 years. But Useless Airlines has. They haven’t even found all the pieces from their last crash. Someone ought to tell Useless Airlines that gravity is more than just a good idea; it’s the law.”
You get the picture. If the airlines advertised like that, airports would be empty and Amtrak would have record profits. So, given the state of political advertising, is it any wonder polling places aren’t busy on Election Day?
This lack of voter participation raises a real issue for those of you who were just elected: No matter how well you did, the overwhelming majority of your constituents did not vote for you. Let’s do a little electoral math. In the last midterm election, only 36 percent of registered voters in Marion County actually voted. While we wait for the official numbers to come in, let’s assume turnout this time hit 40 percent.
But wait-that’s a misleading number, sort of like high school graduation rates. See, only about 85 percent of eligible voters actually register to vote; so, if we use “eligible voters” as our denominator, probably only one third of those people actually voted.
So even if you achieved Lugar-esque numbers at the polls, more than 75 percent of your constituents likely did not vote for you. Hmm. Might want to rethink all that talk about mandates and the like.
Let’s recap: Low turnout. Negative campaigns. Killer phone calls. Voting machine problems. If this system were a company, we’d be starting an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding.
And to carry the analogy further, the business community is a major investor in that company. We provide a significant chunk of the money that underwrites this process, both through campaign contributions to the candidates and taxes paid to the government. We know what we’d do if we were key shareholders of a real company with a lousy track record; we’d clean house. So maybe it’s time we demanded some serious changes in the way our “electoral investment” is being managed.
The media have reported that Indiana candidates spent record sums on their campaigns this year, totaling in the millions of dollars. But on Election Day, this headline also appeared on the front page of the local newspaper: “Charities lack food, cash as Thanksgiving draws near.”
As you ponder that juxtaposition, and look toward the next election cycle, let me ask you this: Are we really getting our money’s worth here?
Gifford is a partner at the law firm of Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis. His column appears monthly. This article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice for any particular situation. Gifford can be reached at 237-1409 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.