EDITORIAL: Celebrate victory over apathy by voting

May 8, 2010

Isn’t it great to live in a country where citizens have a say in who serves in every public position from president to school board?

Wouldn’t it be even better if citizens actually took that privilege seriously and went to the polls equipped with knowledge of the candidates and their positions?

OK, that might be aiming a little high, so we’ll lower our expectations:

Wouldn’t it be even better if citizens actually took that privilege seriously and went to the polls?

Indiana’s May 4 primary was a vivid reminder of how many of us take the democratic process for granted. Statewide numbers were not immediately available, but central Indiana’s preliminary stats provided a glimpse of what’s to come: Voter turnout ranged from 15 percent in Marion County to 26 percent in Hamilton County. Four years ago, statewide turnout in May was just 19 percent.

Sure, they were primaries—and midterm primaries at that—and as such lacked the “Get out the Vote” efforts that accompany more high-profile elections. But that’s no excuse for two-thirds or more of registered voters sitting it out.

In addition to selecting candidates for Congress and the state Legislature, voters chose the Republican contender in what promises to be a bruising battle for U.S. Senate. And then there were the school board elections—perhaps the most local of the local races—that were actually decided by the dedicated few who bothered to show up.

Yes, despite a recommendation in the bipartisan Kernan-Shepard report on government reform, efforts to move school board elections to the fall general election haven’t succeeded. And still no one shows up in May.

What does it say about our citizenry that the crowds outside Mexican restaurants on Cinco de Mayo far outpaced the traffic at polling places on Election Day? Maybe we should replace the red-white-and-blue “I voted” stickers with frosty margaritas.

Even in presidential election years, the primary is largely overlooked because the candidates usually have their party’s nomination wrapped up before Indiana gets around to voting. The hotly contested 2008 race was a rare exception—and still just 40 percent of voters came out. That’s simply not good enough.

It would be great to someday see precincts filled with prepared voters weighing in on important issues, but first we need to get people to the polls.

A bar beside the ballot box might not be the answer, but we have to find a way to engage our fellow Americans in the very process that makes America great. We celebrate Mexico’s 1862 victory over the French every May—is it too much to ask that we also celebrate the informed electorate’s victory over apathy?•

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