In the latest congressional flip, fourteen incumbent Democrats lost their seats to GOP challengers.
While it was not quite the clean-out I personally expected, it’s certainly a statement once again, that the electorate is dissatisfied with a seriously dysfunctional Congress. After congressional approval ratings reached all-time lows; as low as 9 percent in Nov 2013 and a dismally low average of 15 percent over the past forty three months, I’m a bit surprised more incumbents weren't rousted from their warm, cushy seats.
These statistics don’t tell the entire story however. Hidden in those numbers is a picture of electorate apathy and disenfranchisement that has haunted the US for decades.
These two numbers tell the rest; the rapidly increasing and now substantial majority of voters who refuse to be pigeon-holed into partisan dogma, the “independents” at 42 percent (compared to 25 percent GOP and 31 percent Democrats), and those who have simply given up on the process entirely.
Some 59.7 million eligible voters in the country aren’t even registered to vote.
While 42 percent of the electorate now refuse to be pigeon-holed by partisanship, almost 30 percent of the eligible voter population have withdrawn entirely from our critically ill election process.
An excellent example of voter apathy lies in the story of Saira Blair, a very sharp 18-year-old GOP member who now holds a seat in the traditionally Democrat West Virginia House of Delegates.
Campaigning on a very conservative platform:
"It's time we stopped treating our citizens like terrorists and our terrorists like citizens," she says on her online issues statement. "I believe that life begins at conception ... I find it extremely hard to believe that given the choice any child would chose death over life, I know I certainly wouldn't."A stellar example for the newest generation in the US, Ms. Blair has become the youngest politician in West Virginia history, and regardless of which side of the political aisle one resides, generous amounts of applause should be heaped upon Saira for her commitment, eagerness, aspirations, and most of all, her achievement.
Sadly, however, the rest of the nation doesn’t measure up, and her story exemplifies the election numbers of the entire nation.
The Sydney Morning Herald produced an interesting article about Ms. Blair, lauding her victory with 63 percent of the district’s vote.
Her victory is indeed impressive, especially considering her age and the fact that this is her first venture into the tough world of politics. But, the impression is distorted, as are almost all election figures in the US.
In Australia, where voter participation rates hover around 81 percent, the author at the Herald may not understand the true significance of her 63 percent margin, a significance which stands out in a comparison of voter participation rates by country in 2012 wherein the US ranked last in a list of 58 countries.
Meanwhile, many in the US ignorantly boast; "we have the best democracy in the world.” Yet, 30 percent of the nation’s eligible voters aren’t even registered to vote, and of those who are registered, only 36.6 percent voted in the 2014 mid-term election.
An embarrassing 74 million out of the more than 206 million eligible voters, or 3 out of every 10, bothered to participate.
A dismal story indeed!
The district in which Ms. Blair was elected as a delegate to the West Virginia House, voter participation rates look very similar to those of the nation as a whole. The district has a total of 18,000 registered voters and while no data on registered VS eligible voters by district are available, it’s likely the district will closely represent numbers similar to those of the state, or 37 percent of those eligible are registered. An extrapolation gives us 48,649 eligible voters in Ms. Blair’s 59th District.
As awesome as her achievements are, Ms. Blair is now faced with governing her district from which 4994 votes of 48,649 eligible voters cast their votes, or 10 percent of her district’s constituents.
This is very concerning to me, for as much as we deride politicians, the job, if taken seriously and performed with integrity, isn’t an easy nine to five at Mc D’s. I ask; just how difficult is that job going to be for such a hopeful youngster? How disenchanted is she going to become if her first step is met with disillusioned and dissatisfied voters? For, while 90 percent of them didn’t bother to vote, all will surely complain about her efforts.
The best of luck to Ms. Blair.