OPINION: Hey, NH Voters, You Get an 'F'
The headline “Turnout downturn for snowy election” appeared on a Concord Monitor article March 15.
Three paragraphs into the story it read, "but Warner still appears to have lead the region in turnout at 29 percent – 651 voters out of 2,205 registered voters." It then listed off turnout percentages in other towns: Hopkinton 21 percent, Bow 18 percent, Sanbornton 17 percent, Deering 11 percent, Pembroke 10 percent, Allenstown 9 percent and Boscawen 8 percent.
As a resident of Warner, while I’m obviously pleased that we lead the list, I’m also mindful of the fact that if I had scored 29 percent on a French test in high school or a psych class in college, it would have been a disaster let alone 18 percent or 8 percent. No amount of scaling currently available to educators would make those numbers look any better. And, I doubt highly that if the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics or Patriots only won 29 percent of their games that we’d consider that a good season.
So, can we please stop rationalizing, justifying, enabling and sugar-coating the voter turnout numbers and start calling them what they are? A disaster, embarrassing, shameful, troublesome and flat-out disgraceful.
We’ve all heard people at work or at the supermarket say, “I’m too busy;" “I don’t know any of the candidates;” “My vote doesn’t count;” or “It takes too long to vote." Well, here’s a news flash for you. Those are excuses, not reasons.
I’m not going to bother to invoke phases about how generations of men and women have died to protect your right to vote. That’s too cliche and “old school” for many of you and probably wouldn’t resonate anyway. So let the number speak for themselves.
Just 57.5 percent of eligible U.S. residents voted during the 2012 presidential election, according to the Huffington Post. Many other developed nations have rates that exceed 70 percent.
New Hampshire had the highest presidential primary voter turnout out of any state in 2016 at 52.4 percent, according to the United States Election Project. Wisconsin came in second at 49.4 percent.
So more of you turn out to vote every four years for someone who may or may not impact your life in the future as opposed to voting for the people and issues that set your tax rate, sand your roads, patrol your neighborhoods, promote responsible growth in your town and deal with your garbage on a daily basis? That’s a wonderful dismissal of responsibility to pass on to your children and grandchildren.
Obviously, others have seen this generational eroding as evidenced by a bill (HB 1694) that was introduced in the current Legislative session. The title of the bill was “An ACT requiring a CIVICS examination as a high school graduation requirement." Included in the examination were “the rights and responsibilities of citizens." Interestingly, the passing grade on the proposed civics exam was 85 percent, not 57.5 percent, 52.4 percent or 29 percent. However, for whatever reasons, the bill was deemed inexpedient to legislate, which means it’s done for this session.
The only way I see the current anemic voter turnouts increasing is through the development of a phone app that will allow people to vote from their home, office or car (assuming that they’re not doing it while driving on a New Hampshire road).
Having said that, do I think the voters will then take the time to educate themselves on the people or issues on the ballot before they hit “send” on their phone? No. But will the turnout numbers be higher? Yes.
So there’s your trade-off.
A current majority of the electorate that is happy to let a minority of the voters pick the direction of their taxes and town or an uninformed majority that can at least say, “Yeah, I voted."
You can stop worrying about the Russians bringing us down. We’re doing fine all by ourselves.
Peter St. James is the host of the "Good Morning New Hampshire," which airs from 6-10 a.m. Monday-Friday on 107.7 WTPL The Pulse and 107.3 WEMJ.