Apathy just one threat to elections
It often is said the most sacred right of Americans is that of free and fair elections to determine the people to whom we entrust the operation of our governments. That can be seen as a hollow entitlement, based on numerous ways in which the citizens of this country show disrespect, if not contempt, for the democratic process.
The most obvious and longstanding measurement of our foundering system is the failure of so many eligible voters to go to the polls and cast their ballots. According to the United States Election Project, the estimated voter turnout in last week’s election was 36.4 percent of registered voters. That was the lowest voter participation since 1942. Almost two-thirds of those who had taken the time to register did not bother to vote. The percentage of eligible, but unregistered, voters would be even less. At the base of low voter participation is individual apathy, driven at least in part by disrespect for the candidates and the system.
The best example of this was the 2014 race for Nevada attorney general. Although this writer strongly favored Ross Miller based on his qualifications, neither he nor his opponent, Adam Laxalt, addressed issues relevant to the office they were seeking. Instead, the electorate was pounded with incessant, intellectually offensive and boring attack ads. Would anyone know what performance to expect from either candidate? Political parties also are responsible for low voter turnout. Only a well-organized party can assure qualified, attractive and well-funded candidates for high office. Notwithstanding the assurance of Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid to the contrary, no credible Democratic candidate challenged Gov. Brian Sandoval. Ray Hagar wrote recently in the Reno Gazette Journal the decision of Steve Sisolak, the only apparent candidate, not to run against Mr. Sandoval was largely responsible for the low turnout of Democratic voters. Without a leader at the top of the ballot, voters are discouraged and see no reason to participate in an election.
Gov. Sandoval, however, got out the vote, was reelected overwhelmingly and carried every Republican candidate for constitutional office with him. All of this despite committing political heresy, according to conservative dogma, by supporting extension of a $600 million tax reduction package past its sunset date, establishing the Nevada health exchange and broadening Medicaid coverage in Nevada.
Congress has only a single digit approval rating among American people, lower even than the national media. Yet, 96 percent of incumbent House Republicans were reelected last week, according to THE Nation magazine. That is a demonstration of hypocritical self-interest and the power of money and incumbency. The magazine also reported the Republican administrations in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania “drew brutally unfair congressional maps.” Such gerrymandering matches restrictive voter measures in many states for contempt of the democratic process.
Finally, the enormous sums of money now spent on political campaigns are corrupting the system and are frightening threats to free and fair elections. An estimated $4 billion was spent on congressional elections (opensecrets.org), or $14.5 million per Senate campaign and $1.5 million for each representative; much of the money came from unknown sources outside each individual state or district. Neither Democrats nor Republicans should be allowed to buy elections.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.