Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why are WY voters not voting?

Why have so many Wyomingites quit voting?

In 2008, there were 243,171 registered voters in the state. By 2016, the number dropped to 237,857. Today only 207,040 eligible voters are registered, fifteen percent fewer than 2008. Less than a majority of Wyoming’s 445,830 voting age adults (46%) are registered to vote.

That’s not an accident. That many people don’t just forget to enter polling booths. Something else is going on and our elected officials have shown little interest in figuring out what it is.

Contributing to the problem is the Democratic Party’s failure to address voter registration. Their neglect of practical politics means their own numbers have fallen like a roadrunner off a cartoon cliff. In 2008, there were 65,264 registered Wyoming Democrats. Today there are 41,877.

That helps explain why a Wyoming Democrat hasn’t been elected to Congress since 1976 when there were 77,460 registered voters counted in their party. It’s noteworthy that in 1976, the gap between Democrats and Republicans was slightly more than ten thousand votes. A Democrat stood a chance back then and often as not one was elected. Remember Gale McGee, Teno Roncalio and Ed Herschler? Today that gap has grown to nearly 100,000 registered voters.

But this is not an issue for Democrats alone. Though they enjoy a considerable advantage, there has also been a significant decline in the numbers of Republicans taking time to cast a ballot.

In 2008, 149,736 Republicans were registered to vote in the general election. As of today, that number has declined to 141,793. The difference has not gone to unaffiliated or independent voters either. Their totals fell from 27,271 to 21,951 in the same period of time.

Since 2012, even the Libertarians have lost numbers dropping slightly from1,097 to 1,064.

Whether you’re talking about Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or independents, it is clear. Fewer Wyoming folks are interested in entering a voting booth. Out of 445,830 who are eligible to vote in this state, only 207,040 show any interest in doing so.

That’s the kind of a problem that should stir some of our elected officials to investigate. Why are fewer than half of those who could vote taking part in the process? Why are the numbers on a downward spiral?

It seems like these are questions deserving of an exploration in a representative republic. After all, how legitimate can our representatives be if more than half of eligible voters refuse to participate?

Now a cynic might opine that those who get elected and reelected year after year don’t have cause to care. The system works well for them. Why would they want to put their futures in doubt by encouraging more people to vote when the pols aren’t sure how they’d vote?

Seemingly this is a problem of the chicken and egg sort. Which came first, politicians ignoring the voters or voters ignoring the politicians?

If this were a democracy the votes of the people would actually decide policy. Then Wyoming would have, as an example, Medicaid expansion. But it is not a democracy. Instead we vote for representatives. They are expected to act in our interests. Sometimes they don’t. When that happens, there are two possible responses among the voters.

They can go to the polls and defeat politicians who ignore them or they can boycott the entire political process. Given the rate at which Wyoming incumbents are reelected, most voters have apparently chosen the latter strategy.

As Mercutio said in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “I am hurt. A plague on both your houses.” Maybe unregistered voters are sending a message that Wyoming politicians are irrelevant to their lives. Neither political party expends much energy persuading them otherwise. Yet every two years some candidates who share their concerns lose while others who don’t win solely because so many couldn’t be bothered to vote. The vote is a powerful thing whether used or not.

In any event, there are 238,790 unregistered voters out there. Republicans don’t need them and Democrats can’t win without them.

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