I intentionally voted late in the day on Tuesday. After reading article after article that this election would be the lowest primary election turnout in state history, I wanted to ask the poll workers at my regular polling place what their day was like. Typically one in four registered voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties vote in primary elections that don’t feature a presidential race. Did they see many voters? What was the mood of people at the polling location? Did they think the problem, if there was one, was apathy or awareness?
“It’s been slower than usual,” Lynette, a poll worker, told me as I reviewed the hourly voting logs on the wall at my polling place. She has worked elections since 2008. “I don’t care how big or small the election, they should get out and vote because every vote counts,” she said with a smile. The numbers at that location were a disappointment. After 12 hours only 100 voters had come to cast their ballots. Yes, more individuals are voting by mail than ever before, but even those numbers were low.
As expected, the voter turnout was embarrassingly low, although official numbers have not been confirmed. Since 2002, that number has hovered around the 33 percent level with 2008 seeing the lowest number of voters at 28.2 percent. Here in the Inland Empire, participation in Tuesday’s election was even more dismal with 17.9 percent of registered voters participating in Riverside County and 14.8 percent in the County of San Bernardino.
What does it mean when so few adults actually participate in the democratic process? In one article I read, the author said that perhaps part of the problem is the lack of focus on substantive issues and policies and the impulse to focus on the sensational, the shocking, the salacious. Perhaps, he suggested, we should look at “reshaping our politics around honest, ethical, and inspiring messages” and on “educating youth on the principles of civic engagement.” Another author summarized it with a simple equation: relative contentment + a sense of predestined outcome = little incentive to vote.
As I spent the rest of Tuesday evening celebrating at my mother’s campaign headquarters in Rialto, I asked several people there, why they vote, why they volunteer to work for the candidates of their choice, and why they care at all. What I discovered was like me, these individuals grew-up in civic-minded households. They learned early that it is their responsibility to vote, run for office, and serve on volunteer boards and commissions. Like Lynette, the poll worker who greeted me at my polling place, they also believe that every vote counts, and not just during important elections or general elections. In fact, they know just how much their vote counts during the primaries. All we have to do is look at the local contests that are still too close to call, where we are waiting for every ballot to be counted to see who advances to the general election in November.
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