Election 2006: We Can Do Better

Who's Voting This Time? 

            Long ago, while a freshman at American University, I learned the three factors that determine whether a person will vote.  The third was age.  Second was income.  The first was education. The higher the amount you have, the more likely you are to vote.  Not coincidentally, these three are also fairly good indicators of whether a person writes a letter to the editor.

           Having just come off an election, we're still sifting through the results.  I don't want to get into who won or lost and why.  I'm more interested in the greater issue of who didn't vote and how we can get and sustain a greater turnout.

            Normally, high voter participation is marked by some great controversy.  The 1896 election pitted Republican McKinley against William Jennings Bryan, the latter championing the cause of pegging the dollar to silver at a high fixed rate.

            With the U.S. firmly on the gold standard, this could have effectively devalued the dollar by 50 percent, doing the same to bank accounts for the urban wealthy and debts for the rural poor.

           In that election, income played a larger part than age or education.  Everyone in the country had a dog in that fight and turnout reflected it.

            What I also learned in that same freshman Intro to American Politics class is that both parties fear greater participation. At the time, Reagan was president and Democrats held both houses on Congress.  There was parity, and enough power to go around. Turnout in 1984 was just over 53 percent of those eligible to vote.

            That means that, unless there is a complete blow-out, no one is winning election to office with the approval of a majority of the people.  Meanwhile, the word "mandate" is thrown around loosely these days by anyone managing to squeak out the narrowest of pluralities.  But this should not be expected in our winner-take-all system...

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