Archive for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dismal turnout needs addressed

August 17, 2006

The Eudora recreation complex referendum provided a bright spot for what was otherwise a bleak primary election day.

The bleakness was defined not by winners or losers but by turnout. Although 20 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Eudora only 18 percent of registered voters cast ballots statewide and Douglas County turnout was 12 percent. That is not bad; it's dismal, especially for a nation that pretends to be a shining example of Democracy for troubled nations around the world.

For years, conservative Republicans enjoyed success within the party by getting people to the polls. But that reputation took a hit during the election, and there is evidence the magic is disappearing. The abysmal voter turnout figures in the primary alone indicate no group is having success motivating voters.

The low turnout numbers are troubling because they undercut legitimacy. When conservatives took control of the Kansas State Board of Education in 1998 and again two years ago, those who opposed their moves to change science standards to challenge evolution, promote opt-in sex education classes and challenge local school board authority on charter schools pointed to the apathy and low voter turnout that produced a conservative majority. Conservatives lost two seats on the state board Aug. 1 with similar turnout. It's clear no one can claim mandate when it takes a mere 9 percent of eligible voters to win.

This lack of mandate means we could see more flip-flopping on the state board at a time when all associated with the state's public education should be focused on improving performance.

It's apparent there is a problem that needs thought. The primary could be moved closer to the general election, which might increase focus. More radically, local polls could be open two days. The cost of this option could be reduced with the consolidation of nearly empty polling places.

Although clearly anyone who wants to vote can, the consistent poor turnout in primaries indicates more creative ways should be explored to increase participation.

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