Early ballots went into the mail last week for this month’s Arizona primary election. Some of you may have already received them.
The convenience of these ballots is hard to dispute. In other countries, huddled around small fires are people dreaming of living in America, where we have the luxury of voting at our kitchen tables wearing bathrobes and slippers — and still don’t do it.
Primary election turnout continues to be anemic, which greatly contributes to the quality of candidates on the ballot.
Starting in 2010, the primary was moved from September to August. This allows more time until the general election for party nominees and independent candidates to campaign. But that didn’t negatively impact voter turnout.
So much for the “everybody’s on vacation in August” argument: The Aug. 24 date didn’t diminish turnout from the previous two primary elections, In fact, it went up.
Statewide, 30.1 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2010. In 2008, when the election was held on Sept. 2, it was 22.8 percent. And the 2006 primary on Sept. 12 had a 23.1 percent turnout.
Even so, that no more than three out of 10 registered voters having voted in any of the last three primaries — this doesn’t account for the number of people who aren’t registered at all — is at the heart of why we get the kinds of candidates we do.
Those three in 10 tend to be highly motivated voters. They have strong, pronounced views, in many cases at either end of the political spectrum. So Democratic primaries tend to feature candidates who are more liberal than most Democrats, while Republican primaries usually offer candidates who are more conservative than most Republicans.
Most voters I’ve talked to are tired of the commercials featuring “I’m more conservative than he is” as the primary issue of contested GOP races for U.S. Congress. When they’re not trying to win a conservative beauty contest, they talk about immigration and taxes and the federal budget deficit.
These are issues that appeal to motivated Republican voters, but are dwarfed by the economy and jobs as the top concern of voters, according to published results of a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll of residents of the presidential-election battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Health care is second, according to the poll, reported in last week’s New York Times. The two issues combined are the top concerns of about 70 percent of voters in those three states.
The Democrats in contested races are hardly any different. They focus on what their highly motivated voters want to hear, mostly about higher taxes for the wealthy. Democratic candidates can read poll results similar to those above as well, but aren’t paying attention.
Independents, who are allowed to vote in a party primary of their choice, tend to overwhelmingly stay away from them.
So after this year’s primary, you might hear something serious and detailed about a jobs plan, but not now. The candidates are too busy playing up to what are a relatively few voters at either end of that spectrum. The majority of us who are between them, well, we get next to nothing.
Yet this time our politicians’ behavior isn’t so much their fault as it is ours.
Back to that kitchen table: To get candidates that have political views that are closer to our own, more of us need to be sitting there voting or going to the polling place on Election Day.
Increasing turnout, while far from completely solving the problem of extreme candidates (or extreme-behaving ones), is the single most effective way to moderate our ballot choices. More moderate voters will mean candidates who speak to their issues.
This is not an overnight solution, but soon more candidates might just start talking about something other than who’s more conservative, who’s more of the champion of the little guy and other slogans.
This is the season when talk of turning the rascals out increases in volume. But while voters talk tough, they apparently don’t investigate enough, because incumbents enjoy a more than 90 percent retention rate. That is, too many of us will say they should be retired, but don’t know enough about that incumbent’s opponent — or are willing to select someone from the opposite political party — to vote for anyone else.
We are therefore going to have to get a better set of choices. Start with that ballot that’s going to be waiting for you on your kitchen table. Or circle your calendar for Election Day.