Voting is one of the most treasured rights of every American. But it is amazing how many people either never register or find some excuse not to vote. Then of course there is the perceived voter fatigue caused by having too frequent elections, failure to educate oneself on the issues, or being too lazy to physically go to the polls.
With early voting set to begin March 1, political eyes will be watching to see what impact voter apathy – due in part to our love of all things Mardi Gras – will have on voter turnout for the March 15 runoff elections for Council At Large, Council C, Sheriff and Coroner. In the primary election held on February 1, approximately 12,000 voters cast their votes early and a much smaller number voted by mail.
It is a fact that fewer people vote in runoff elections, especially when the races are for less important offices. It is not too often that we have elections in the middle of Mardi Gras balls and parades. Let’s also add in that some of the races have gotten pretty nasty and some people might be too disgusted to vote.
Looking at New Orleans’ unique demographics, African-Americans — especially females — vote in greater numbers than any other group. It could be said that candidates who have the support of black females usually win, especially in low-turnout elections. Of course it is also possible — but not always likely — that voters select a different candidate in the runoff than they did in the primary.
Of the 12,000 plus early voters for the primary election, 3,171 were white and 8,555 were African Americans. Almost 10,000 Democrats cast their votes. We actually have almost as many Independents voting (1218) as we did Republicans (1277).
While we can blame our voter apathy this year on Carnival, other parts of the U.S. are not so lucky. Voter turnout in America has fallen below those of 54 other democratic countries. Burundi has the highest percentage of voter turnout followed by Tunisia, Singapore and Cyprus, according to NationMaster.com.
Low-voter turnout elections at the primary level give activist groups a better chance to get one of their own elected. Such elections benefit one issue candidates and extremists, both on the left and the right.
Many people don’t vote because they don’t think their vote counts and won’t bring meaningful change. Perhaps voting should be mandatory – like the draft used to be for young men. That’s the law in Australia and Belgium where voter turnout is usually above 90%.
We could do voter registration in connection with getting a driver’s license. That would push up the numbers for sure. Our possible next governor Mitch Landrieu might want to pass a law that will give the state the right to make a list of every person eligible to vote that is not already registered and mandate registration as a civic obligation.
Polls often show that the voters are not proud of their elected officials. New Orleans voters certainly are not pleased when the City Council is at odds. Even African-American voters apparently did not want to hear former Judge Michael Bagneris say the disenfranchised were being left out of New Orleans recovery.
Clearly, there is a lack of political consciousness in our society. It could be said that candidates do their best to communicate with voters through radio and TV advertising, direct mail, the Internet, signs, forums and just plain old knocking on doors. Many people – especially young people — just do not respond.
If we want more people to register and vote, we must begin by educating voters in elementary school, junior high, high school and college using mock elections, the Internet, civics, history, and public speaking. We should register every young person when he or she get a driver’s license or adults when they renew their licenses.
Allan and Danae’s grandparents were among the millions of U.S. immigrants who couldn’t wait to earn the right to vote. As Americans, we are blessed with so many freedoms citizens in other countries just don’t have. It’s a shame we often take them for granted.
BEAUTY PARLOR TALK: WILL MITCH LANDRIEU JOIN HILLARY CLINTON ON THE DEMOCRATIC TICKET?
One of Danae’s friends (who happens to work at City Hall) heard from her beautician that Mitch’s name is being tossed around as a vice presidential candidate. We must admit that New Orleans beauty parlors have always been a great hotbed of political information. But we’re not quite sure that being vice president would be as much fun as being governor.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board, and Columbus is working on the campaigns of Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Charles Foti. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.