Did you vote in the last election?
If you did, you’re in the minority — only about 40% of registered voters in Enumclaw’s city limits (3,600 out of 8,900) and the Enumclaw School District (ESD) (8,600 out of 21,500) cast a vote in the last election.
This means only about 20% of registered voters ended up choosing who gets to represent 100% of residents on the city council and the school district’s board of directors.
Election participation was even less during the August primary, and I can’t remember a time when a majority of Enumclaw voters cast a ballot when it came to local races and propositions.
And it’s during those elections that more votes matter the most.
For example: ESD Board Director Lori Metschan had only 12 fewer votes than challenger Tonya Pettit in the last primary; if that’s not maddening enough, 47 people wrote in a candidate they knew would not win.
In the last election, Pettit trailed her opponent, Ben Stouffer, by 151 votes in this election – and 364 people wrote in a candidate.
The number of write-ins between ESD Board Director incumbent Tyson Gamblin and challenger Vivian Cadematori are negligible, but only 152 votes separated the two in the race.
This all means that you — yes, you — could literally have been the difference between someone winning or losing a local race in this last election.
I find that frustrating as hell — it actually makes me want to scream — because I am positive that the people who did not vote have thoughts on what local education should look like, or how their city should be run, or if an obsolete school building should be replaced. Eleven years of journalism has taught me that everyone has an opinion.
Yet, somehow, around 4,000 Enumclaw residents aren’t registered to vote; and 60% of those who are, for whatever reason, chose not to cast a ballot.
Or, frankly, can’t — Washington might rank No. 2 in voting accessibility, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still socio-political barriers that prevent people from participating in elections.
But barring those, which are a whole other conversation on their own, most locals have the ability to fill out their ballot and get it into a mailbox.
So why don’t they?
Personally, I think the culprit is basic apathy.
Here’s a good example of my own: if you’re seen me recently, you might have noticed my head looks different.
That’s because my hair is growing back — not even little by little, but a noticeable amount. Beyond the huge self-esteem boost, this was also not hard to achieve; I just needed to make an appointment with a dermatologist (yes, it was scheduled out a few weeks, but whatever) and they prescribed me oral minoxidil and dutasteride, which is fully covered by insurance.
In short, no pain, much gain (and for those of you men now scheduling your dermatologist appointment, you’re welcome).
And yet, it took me five years to get off my butt and do this extremely simple thing.
Unfortunately, unlike hair growth, the benefits of voting are not nearly as tangible.
So, how do we pierce this apathetic armor?
Australia fines non-voters, which appears to work well — the average election turnout is 92%.
Despite this success, I can’t support the Australian way of encouraging voter turnout: taxing non-voters is regressive, classist (see above about voting barriers), and generally goes against the spirit of free elections, which includes the right not to vote.
Besides — you know what I think works better in getting people to participate in elections than taking their money?
Giving them money. Or at least a tax credit.
Even if it was just a $100 credit for each election I participate in, that ends up being a sizable deduction in my annual property taxes, if I vote four times a year.
While this sort of “enticement voting” system improves on Australia’s compulsory voting at least in the tax regard, other issues remain.
One of the main ones are “donkey ballots”, where voters just pick to support a candidate or measure at random, with no actual thought going into their choice; some argue that America’s current system is more democratic as a whole because the people who vote at least have an opinion on what they’re voting for, even if their opinions are uninformed, based on misinformation, etc.
I can’t argue that “donkey ballots” wouldn’t become an issue, but I believe far more people will be piqued when they open those ballots and see those names and propositions; they’ll at least open up their voter’s guide to do a little research before filling out a ballot.
Another issue: some studies show that compulsory voting — and likely by extension, enticement voting — would have little effect on American election outcomes, except in the case of close races.
Not that I’m an expert, but I disagree.
The people currently voting in elections have, in one way or another, horses in the race. They’re activists with an agenda, or at least have a strong, overarching politic that informs how they vote, and results in “down-ballot voting”, or voting for everyone of a particular political party.
But I think these other potential voters will have a different attitude; they’ll end up picking their favorite candidate over a political party like an independent.
Additionally, I think they would also generally support tax increases for social programs, community safety, and education improvements; and are center-left on various social issues like abortion, education, and LGBTQ rights.
In a word: they’ll be moderate to center-left.
All of this is important, because if more moderates voted, we would quickly see a transformed political arena where extremism would be less tolerated on both sides of the political aisle — those with highly unpopular platform positions like “defund the police” or “enact a six-week abortion ban” would have a hard time getting onto the general ballot.
It’ll still happen, of course — America’s primary/general election system, to use a technical phrase, sucks, and needs an overhaul.
But first things first: let’s become a better example of democracy and get more people participating in their local elections.
But until we do, just remember: Your. Vote. Counts.