I’m generally of the view that voting should be easy, that we should encourage greater participation of citizens, and that the more engaged people are the more likely they are to elect good public servants. There have been a lot of complaints in recent years, especially since the 2000 presidential election, about how America is horribly divided. (I tend to think that historically we’re actually not much more divided than we have been through most of our history, but that’s for another post.) But divided or not, one heartening development in recent years is the increased voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. While the choices aren’t always good, it’s a good when more Americans participate in our elections.
But why the heck are important elections–and a state supreme court election is important–why are elections for important seats held at such odd times of the year? As someone who works on elections, it’s good for our employment. Americans have far more far more opportunities to vote in elections than do citizens of other countries; we elect city officials, officials of local school boards, county officials, members of regional bodies, state legislators, state executives, members of various commissions and boards, we vote on referendums and amendments to constitutions, we vote to elect federal office holders, and in most places we elect judges at almost every level other than federal. This means that often in November elections we face the daunting task of sometimes voting on literally over a hundred offices and ballot questions. But it also means that often important elections–and not just those to fill opens seats, like vacancies in the US House of Representatives–often happen on days like today–the first Tuesday in April, when the average person isn’t thinking about politics.
How many times a year should voters be expected to possibly miss work, have to get day care or overcome the other impediments to voting that don’t exist in those countries that vote less frequently but declare election days national holidays? I don’t know a lot about Wisconsin’s political culture, but it’s my impression that it’s very activist and participation is much higher than in most of the country. The results coming in today suggest that the turnout was fairly decent. But elections like today’s are generally low-turnout affairs, and when few citizens are engaged, the results seldom advance the common good.