“One vote counted is one voice heard.”
It’s an election year. You probably noticed. The seemingly endless stream of political advertising. Yard signs. Mailers. Two of my neighbors were canvassing this weekend, going door-to-door for their candidate. Walking through the community, I see multiple places to pick up an absentee ballot request form. Civic engagement and participation are on display.
There have been 58 presidential elections in the United States since 1788. George Washington was first. Franklin Roosevelt was elected four times. William Jennings Bryant lost three times. Barack Obama had the most votes cast for him. Richard Nixon won by the largest margin of popular votes. In the modern era, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan won the electoral college vote with 99 and 98 percent of the vote, respectively. (Both as incumbents, in 1936 and 1984).
A lot of attention is paid to presidential elections. Unfortunately, that does not translate into participation in elections. Participation in elections, as a percentage of population, peaked in 1876, when more than 82 percent of eligible voters turned out for the election. Voter turnout has generally trended lower over past century, with some elections drawing fewer than half of eligible donors. Ohio does better than the national average: 64 percent of eligible voters took part in in the 2016 general election. But only 36 percent voted in the 2014 “off-year” elections; fewer than half of eligible voters took part in 2010. These elections included races for the governor and attorney general. Participation looks even lower when considering “down ballot” candidates, local referenda and municipal elections. Voter turnout for the November 2019 elections in Cuyahoga County was only 26 percent of registered voters.
We can do better. We need to do better.
In Ohio, every year is an election year. Local elections matter: school boards, municipal officials, county council members, judges and others. Local referenda establish taxes that support schools, hospitals and senior services. State representatives and other elected officials write laws, establish budgets, and oversee criminal and civil courts. Many of the governmental regulations and programs that affect our daily lives are decisions made at the state level. Your participation and your advocacy for issues that matter to you helps make government more accountable, more effective and more representative of the will of the people they govern.
There is some good news. Voter turnout in 2018 was the highest for an “off-year” election in four decades. Participation was higher across all categories of voters, 11 percentage points higher than in 2014. The greatest increase in participation was among younger voters, a 79 percent increase among eligible voters. There is some encouragement in 2020 participation as well. Despite the last-minute cancellation of in-person voting in Ohio’s primary election, and the larger number of absentee ballots that were cast as a result, voter participation was higher than in 2012. Ohio has seen a gradual increase in early voting and absentee voting, mirroring the trend in other parts of the country. November 2020 will likely see that trend continue.
Every election is important, and the 2020 contests will impact decisions that affect older adults and their caregivers. Your voice should be heard. Make a point of reading what the candidates say about their positions. Read the party platforms. Find out how your elected representatives voted (or didn’t vote) on issues that matter to you. Ask questions and expect answers. And vote.
You should feel confident about the importance, and the legitimacy of your vote. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “the future of the republic is in the hands of the American voter.” Your vote counts. And it should. It’s supposed to.
Here are some important dates to remember:
October 5: Deadline to register to vote
October 31: Deadline to request an absentee ballot
October 6 – November 2: Early voting
November 3: Election Day
There is a great chart in Wikipedia that shows the results of every presidential election: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_elections_by_popular_vote_margin
Census Bureau: Behind the 2018 US Midterm Election Turnout https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind-2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html
Voter Information in Ohio: https://www.ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/
United States Elections Project: www.electproject.org
League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland: https://my.lwv.org/ohio/greater-cleveland/article/november-5-2019-election-results-cuyahoga-county