Think About It: What do you mean you’re not voting?!

I’ve heard a lot about people not voting including the belief on some people’s part that small turnouts have resulted in a minority of registered voters deciding the fate of local, state and federal governments.

Please note that you, as a reader of this column, will only read the words “electoral college” in this sentence; that subject belongs in someone else’s column, not this one.

What I am more interested in is how Clallam County fares when we take a deep look into our voting practices.

I started with determining the pool of potential voters. The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Clallam County in 2017 was 75,474. Of those, 58,869 were over the age of 18.

I then went to the county auditor page under elections results to determine how many voters were registered and how many voted. FYI – Just about everything you could ask about elections is answered on the auditor’s website.

In 2017, 51,021 eligible county voters were registered to vote in the November general election. In the 2018 primary election held in August, 51,833 people were registered to vote.

More registered voters voted in the 2018 primary than voted in the 2017 general election by 3,249 people. Percentage wise, 43.33 percent of registered voters voted in the 2017 general and 48.99 percent voted in the 2018 primary.

The statistic lends meaning to why the years following Presidential elections and midterm elections are referred to as “off” years. A look at the races held in 2017, all important, seemed to be a big yawn for voters.

I make the case by telling you – and I am sure you are curious – the 2016 presidential race saw votes from 80.5 percent of registered voters.

Neither of the 2017 and 2018 statistics are anything of which to be proud; neither hit 50%. Considering the 2016 general election should give us some pause in that, even then, 9,945 registered voters didn’t vote.

That’s almost 3,000 more than the number of county adults who failed to register to vote. Although we have no way, at least I don’t, of knowing if the estimated 7,000 people who didn’t registered were eligible to vote. There are people living in our county who are not citizens. There are people incapable due to serious incapacitating conditions and there are people who “snowbird” somewhere else where they have registered to vote. Overall, I thought our percentage of registered voters was pretty good.

The greater question became why the majority of registered voters typically don’t vote.

Incentives, deterrents to voting

Voting has never been easier, safer or cost less in time and money.

I grew up in a household in which voting was as routine as grocery shopping. Neither of my parents considered not voting. They were busy people, especially my mom who had a full-time job and most of the children and household duties because that’s the way it was done then.

Voting then involved going to the polls, usually in a church or school, standing in line and casting a vote by punching a card.

Our parents didn’t tell my brother or me about voting. They were role models of citizenship. I thought it very grown up to vote and was eager to vote in my first presidential election at 21.

We don’t seem to have the same compulsion today. Perhaps, more children need to see their parent or parents at the table discussing and filling out their ballots to learn it’s important to study, be informed and vote.

The only time I didn’t vote regularly was during a time of personal turmoil which I believe is true of non-voters today. If distracting enough, a personal turmoil can throw us back to focusing on our basic needs. Inordinate financial stress, relationship stress or both can stretch us beyond our ability to decide a vote that, for the moment, seems unrelated to our real life.

The hope is that it doesn’t become a pattern and, once through the turmoil, the voter returns to vote and with a strong sense of responsibility toward voting as exercising a hard-earned right.

Just a reminder that the 2017 estimated population of Clallam County was 50.6 percent women, including children. Women have had the right to vote for only about 40 percent of the time since the birth of our nation.

‘I’m not political’

Some people don’t vote for certain races, ballot measures or initiatives because they don’t know enough to make an informed vote. Becoming informed takes time and intention. There are places to go to for information.

The Peninsula Daily News, the weekly Sequim Gazette and the county office of the auditor put out material on candidates, ballot measures and initiatives. The League of Women Voters has a website that has information on election specifics.

Many groups, including the local League of Women Voters, hold forums in which you can observe and hear the candidates.

Talk with friends whom you trust are objective informed voters.

I was particularly saddened one day when a store clerk was making conversation while I waited and asked what I was doing that afternoon. She was smart and clever; I liked her. I told her I was going to a candidates coffee in a home to learn more about the candidates.

She was curious and I was happy to explain. Her questions told me she did not know the difference of elected offices held at state and local levels. She explained it was because she was “not political.”

Somewhere, her parents, the community, the media, the schools and we had failed her. She truly didn’t know the importance and impact of what she was saying; that she was giving up the responsibility she had to our elections and democracy.

I let it be on that friendly afternoon but left feeling loss and a sense of urgency that our youth learn the responsibilities of citizenship as measured by their participation as adults.

I understand totally not wanting to be in the meat grinder of opposition politics, character assassination and favoritism practiced by some today. Rants, distortions and lies are politics at its worst and not practicing responsible citizenship.

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that this young woman would embrace her responsibility as a citizen in an environment of trust and faith in the systems of democracy; an environment that expected and rewarded participation with a government that worked for all people.

Reach Bertha Cooper at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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