Last weeks Eighth District Congressional primaries gave a new meaning to the phrase dead heat. As the temperature outside felt like a muggy 100 degrees the air conditioned polls seemed more like a graveyard than a vibrant show of democracy like the one that the Presidential primary enjoyed in the region.
For a city that prides itself on being politically and civically engaged, last Tuesday was an extremely poor showing.
How bad was it? Republican candidate Mark Ellmores spokesman noted that turnout for the party had actually increased half a percentage. Something is clearly wrong when a jump from one percent turnout to 1.4 percent is a point of pride.
5,863 voters turned out on the GOP side, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections unofficial results for the primary. While one might expect Republican presence to be smaller in a relatively liberal area, this number is still frankly appalling, particularly for a race that was more competitive than the Democratic one.
The Democrats were not much better. The Board of Elections reports that in the race between between incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) and Matthew Famiglietti, 13,556 of the Eighth Districts 405,952 total active voters came to the polls, a turnout of just under 3.4 percent. The primary was not expected to be close, and Morans victory can only be characterized as a blowout, but theres an important question that needs to be asked: Where was everyone?
Do the math. If 19,419 people were able to make it to the polls, where were the other 386,533 active voters?
One possible explanation is that we are taking our right to vote for granted. Its not just a civic duty, as our government teachers pounded into us. Voting is a privilege, one that millions across the world do not have the luxury of ignoring.
Can we really say that we stand as an example of liberty and democracy for oppressed peoples if no one can bother to show up because its a little hot that day? To put things in perspective, take the example of New Mexicos Second Congressional District. During their primaries June 3, the actual temperature in Las Cruces was 98 degrees, and still almost 75,000 of the districts 332,283 registered voters went to the polls, about 22 percent turnout overall. If they can do it, we can do it.
Giving birth, serious illness or the like are iron-clad excuses. The odds that almost 400,000 people were stricken with a mysterious illness is far from plausible though. Having a say in our government is not something to take for granted, and the results of doing so can be dangerous.
If you choose not to vote, dont expect much from your government. If we cant take the time to make out voices heard, why should anyone listen?