“If liberty and equality are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.”
Aristotle, 365 BC
The 2012 election circus is approaching its peak and it promises, as usual, to have little to do with the true practice of democracy. More than a billion dollars will flow into the campaigns of the incumbent President and his challenger. Another billion or more will be spent in local elections across the land. All of that money will be used to sell American citizens something we already own – our government.
The principle of a democratic republic is the foundation of America's house. It's strongest today in the public forums that can be found in every state, especially in smaller, local newspapers where anyone can submit written opinions that stand a good chance of getting published.
Voting is where democracy is expressed, and it's the subject of today's episode for one important reason; the largest block of voters in America are those people who don't vote at all.
A full one-third of all voters stay out of every election. Over the years I've heard a thousand different reasons for non-participation given by folks who sincerely believed what they were saying. None of those reasons, however, were valid; every eligible citizen is bound by duty to vote.
In the 1960 presidential election, only 63 percent of the voters in America actually did. That’s the best we’ve done over the past fifty years. It's why we don't have a true democracy anymore, and it's one of the reasons government is not responsive to the people who are its legal owners.
Sadly, even that 63 percent is an optimistic number. In every election in the history of this country, some dead people and fictional characters have managed to vote – especially in Illinois, Ohio and Florida. Stuffing a ballot box in today's digital world is easier than ever before. I'm glad I vote in Oregon, where I can mail in a paper ballot and have some hope that the count will be honest.
The Roper Center at the University of Connecticut counted all votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, including those for independents and write-ins. Their tally comes to 131 million. That's the highest total in American history, but it’s still only about 60 percent of the potential voters.
The number of honest votes in 2008 was probably closer to 130 million. There's no way to know the exact number of citizens of voting age in America that year, but a conservative guess would be 200 million. That leaves us with at least 70 million members of the Non-Voting Party.
President Obama received just under 69 million votes and easily won the election. Because of the Non-Voters, however, he actually needed the support of only one-third of all citizens of voting age to win.
Oregon voters did a little better than the national average with a 67 percent turnout. Texas and Utah ranked near the bottom at 54 percent. Minnesotans can stand tall, as they led the nation at 77 percent.
In a truly civilized country – or any aspiring democracy – 77 percent might be a barely acceptable level of voter participation. Here, it’s the best we can do, and then only in one state. Our usual national turnout rate is between 50-55 percent. That's no way to maintain a democracy, and it's why our Republic was hijacked long ago by power junkies and special interest groups.
Rob Lafferty, a former news editor on Maui, now lives in and writes from the deep woods of the Oregon Coast Range.