One of the best things about living in a democracy is that everyone legally allowed to cast a vote has a voice. While campaigning for the 5th Assembly District last year, I heard too many people too often say that one vote — their vote — does not matter.
Every election from the local school board trustee to a U.S. Senator can be lost or won by just one vote, even if millions of votes are cast in a single contest. Our presidential elections utilize the Electoral College as a means of electing our U.S. president. Under that system, it’s not only possible but it has happened that the plurality of votes was greater for one candidate, yet he lost due to the unique process of the Electoral College. That is an altogether different issue that may need to be corrected in the future.
So why is it that approximately half the eligible persons who could vote and have a voice in the democratic process often choose not to? You might be as surprised as I was to find out the percentage of eligible voters that determines the outcome of elections can be quite small.
In the California 5th Assembly District, where I live, there are 463,000 residents. Approximately 319,000 persons are 18 years of age or older and legally allowed to vote. In the last election 157,000 votes were cast for either Frank Bigelow or Rico Oller. That is about 49.2 percent of the eligible voters. Thus, only 25.7 percent of all eligible voters actually decided the outcome in the 2012 general election, which went to Frank Bigelow.
Typically, voter turnout in primary elections is considerably less when an even smaller minority can determine the eventual outcome, that is, deciding who will become our elected representative. This is fairly common leading up to a presidential general election. The percentage of votes I received in the 2012 primary was so minuscule that most reports of my votes were omitted to make room for other candidates’ results.
California, on average, has 55 percent eligible voter participation during presidential general elections. Gubernatorial general elections fare slightly worse statewide (44 percent in 2010). Our district, the 5th A.D. saw a high of 75 percent (656 votes) in Alpine County to a low of 46 percent (40,325 votes) in Madera County in the 2012 general election.
Our democratic process, in which every person’s vote counts equally and all are free to pursue political self-determination, is the envy of the majority who inhabit this planet. A minimum of five (others say seven) of our Constitution’s 27 amendments were enacted to ensure that our voter rights are upheld and in no way diminished.
However, honoring those amendments that guarantee the rights of all persons eligible to vote is the responsibility of all of us. In doing so, we are not only participants in this great democracy our founding fathers created, we are also stewards of its continued health and guarantors of its survival.
Mark Belden ran as an independent for the District 5 Assembly seat acquired ultimately by Frank Bigelow.