Two seemingly unconnected events converged this week to make me think long and hard about what it will take for people to pay attention and vote in off-years when we don’t have the motivating factors of major candidate personalities or a dislike of the status quo to drive voters to the polls?
The first event was the voting in Iraq that has taken place over the past week or so. Despite repeated bombings and threats of violence against anyone who dared head to the polls to vote, it is estimated that between 55% and 60% of those eligible to vote in Iraq turned out to cast a ballot in this election, one being positioned as the first step toward bringing that war-torn country stability and self-rule one day. Analysts are pointing to this turn-out as proof that insurgent power is dying out in Irag. Really? We don’t have insurgents here in North Carolina threatening to shoot us if we vote, and our turn-out last year was dismal compared to that level. Which is why I point to the turn-out in Iraq as proof that once you’ve taken everything away from a people, and all they have left is a chance at democracy, in however feeble an incarnation, they will cling to that democracy as their hope for a better future.
The other event took place next door to my hometown of Durham, in Wake County, where a pitiful turn-out in last year’s election placed an ultra-conservative majority on the school board. In short, less than 2.5% of voters in Wake County were able to orchestrate one of the most abrupt turn-arounds in policy I have seen in my lifetime and are now in the process of dismantling a school system I have heard referred to, time and again, by educational experts as among the very best in the state, if not the best. Why does it matter? It matters because there is no such thing as an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without an equal shot at a decent education. Kill the public schools and you’ll have cut out the heart of what makes America as close to the land of opportunity as our species has been able to attain this far. What’s happening in Wake is that democracy is taking a beating because people weren’t paying attention.
I look at these two events and I wonder what it is going to take to get people to vote in this year’s election, especially in the primaries in those areas where a single party has such power that the races will essentially be decided this May 3rd, when the Primary takes place. The gutting of programs you believe in, as is happening in Wake? The loss of liberty, as happened in Iraq, followed by the threat your emerging democracy can be bullied away? Why even come close to either scenario. Help us turn people out for this year’s election season by volunteering to register voters, educate people on key electoral issues or Get Out the Vote when the Primary roles around. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in either volunteering for us (we are a non-partisan, statewide group) or taking advantage of the materials we have to offer. Visit www.democracy-nc.org for more information and see our Take Action, Voting in NC and Resources sections.
– Katy Munger, Democracy NC