Archive for Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Officials lament low voter turnout

September 25, 2002


Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh says two misguided notions keep voter turnout below acceptable levels.

Thornburgh, the state's highest ranking election official, said people across the demographic spectrum, especially younger voters, don't think a single vote counts for much these days.

"They say, 'My vote doesn't make a difference. It's a mere pebble in a stream.'"

He said another conception is that "all politicians are the same."

Both ideas, he said, are wrong.

"Until we change fundamentally those two elements of public thinking, we're going to have a tough time turning around voter turnout."

In August, the primary election attracted 26 percent of registered Republicans and Democrats in Kansas. That's far below the 43 percent of registered voters who showed up in the 1992 primary.

Diana Carlin, chair of the nonpartisan Kids Voting Kansas program and board member of Kids Voting USA, said the United States should consider making election day a legal holiday to improve turnout.

Carlin, who is also graduate school dean at Kansas University, said one option would be to schedule elections on Sundays.

"We're the only country that votes in the middle of the week on ... a working day," she said.

Thornburgh said Kansans also might return to the ballot box if candidates avoided unsavory campaign tactics.

"It's amazing the things I see when I travel the state," he said. "When I say 'politician,' what's the first thing that comes to people's mind? Almost always it's liar, cheat, crook."

Lack of voter participation is a serious threat to democracy, Carlin said.

"It's frightening if we only end up with 20 percent of eligible voters out there voting," she said. "How in the world do you govern?"

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