One of the most frustrating enigmas of American politics is how voters insist on casting their ballots in the greatest numbers when their votes hold the least sway over the results. As many as 80% of voters show up at the polls for a presidential election — when one vote, in a state with three of 535 electoral votes and a 100-plus million are cast nationwide, is practically meaningless. And yet for a school board election, when a handful of votes may carry the day, fewer than half as many vote.
This phenomenon was repeated last Tuesday when 38% of eligible voters statewide cast ballots in Montana’s primary election. In Gallatin County, the figure was a dismal 31%.
It boggles the mind.
Yes, primaries are less exciting than a run for the Oval Office, and the candidates are not household names. And it’s frustrating when you realized you can only vote in one party’s primary when there are races that interest you in both parties. But these elections are when your vote can actually make a difference. And you should exercise this right religiously.
When local and primary elections are approaching, keep a couple of things in mind:
First, know how you’re going to vote before you cast your ballot. Getting informed about the candidates and issues involved is not that difficult. Make a point of paying more attention to state and local news in advance of the election is approaching. Pay attention to who is donating to campaigns and who the political heavy hitters are endorsing.
Secondly you don’t have to vote in every contest on the ballot. If you know little or nothing about both candidates in a race and don’t feel comfortable voting for either, skip it. That will not invalidate your ballot. If you vote in only one contest, you have made a contribution to the process.
And we should all urge our state lawmakers to change our elections to a Top-2 Primary system. In this kind of primary, voters can vote for candidates in any party, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election — even if they are in the same party. Other states have adopted this system and it has the effect of moderating politics. All candidates must appeal to middle-of-the-road voters to win a trip to the general election and extremists are eliminated.
The important thing is to get informed and vote. And encourage others in your circle of acquaintances to do the same. Every voter should resolve to vote in every election. That’s what makes our representative democracy work best.