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Commentary: Low voter turnout drives primary election results

Algenon Cash

Commentary: Low voter turnout drives primary election results
March 04
23:00 2020

By Algenon Cash

The primary election season has ended with many predicted outcomes coming to pass and other results taking some by surprise. One fact that always seems to amaze observers is voter turnout in primary elections.  

Early results indicate 82,314 Forsyth County residents cast a ballot this past Tuesday – only 32% of all registered voters. Not only are those numbers abysmal, they are down from 2016 when nearly 36% of all voters showed up for primary elections.

I asked many local people if they planned to vote and received wide ranging feedback – including not trusting the process, not understanding who the candidates are, with some informing me they didn’t even realize an election was underway. The country is divided and voter apathy does nothing to unite us around so many common goals and objectives.

Elected officials are extended authority in so many areas of life. We depend on these leaders to protect us, manage public resources, generate economic opportunities, serve the least of us, and guide the community with a compelling vision. It’s simply mind boggling as to why more people don’t care to share in the process.

Although final voting results are still under review, we do have a breakdown of early voting data that is concerning. Around 13% of African Americans voted early and just 5% of voters aged 18-24. These groups often are most vocal about issues in the community – violence, police brutality, housing, economic mobility, and transportation – however repeatedly they are the most underperforming voting bloc.

Wealthy voters tend to vote more frequently. Nonvoters are more likely to be poor, young, Hispanic, or African American.

I spoke with a single 23-year-old mother of two about the challenges of raising her children with no other parent in the household. She complained about the inefficient public transit system, lack of jobs paying a decent wage, and her desire to one day be able to afford to return to a university to complete her college degree.

However, when asked about voting, she decided, “No, I’m not voting, none of those people care about me and my kids.”

The response may sound contrarian, but it’s not. For every ten adults eligible to vote, only about three cast a ballot in primary elections. Some voters don’t understand why primary elections are critical.  

In today’s hyper partisan political arena, many races don’t feature general opposition and often get decided on primary voting day when the major political parties vote to establish their candidate for the general election. The unspoken truth is that American elections are far less competitive these days as a result of gerrymandering, which packs select voters in certain districts to engineer a desired outcome.

It’s hard to argue whether election results would alter if the entire population of registered voters participated, but voters must come to realize the process determines more than which candidate wins or loses. Elections matter and the outcomes influence which public policies elected officials champion and whose needs candidates selectively acknowledge or ignore.

Undoubtedly there will be mass attention on who voted and why. But hopefully, elected officials and political pundits will consider an equally important question: who is not voting and what impact does that have?

Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm. Reach him at acash@nullalgenoncash.com.

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