Be counted; We the People are counting on you!

Melvyn Magree

Election day is next Tuesday.  Are you registered?  Have you made your picks?  Please remember to show up.  Without your vote, the candidates you favor least have a better chance of winning.
I’m serious.  Time and time again, candidates have won in a “landslide” because far too many people didn’t show up.  In 1980 many media outlets reported that Ronald Reagan won over Jimmy Carter in a “landslide.”  The “real” winner was “none of the above”!  Ronald Reagan came in a distant second with 27 percent of the eligible voters; 47 percent didn’t bother to show up.
In many ways 2000 was a ridiculous election.  Because of the electoral college system, George Bush won with 47.9 percent of the votes compared to Al Gore’s 48 percent.  Some people claim that Ralph Nader gave the election to Bush.  Would those who voted for Nader have voted at all?  Bush had 537 votes over Gore; 2,912,790 to 2,912,253.  Nader had over 90,000 votes, a tiny count compared to the no-shows.
Drat!  For years I’ve depended on the Election Project at George Mason University for turnout figures.  It is no longer available, and even many of the cached pages are no longer available.
According to the Florida secretary of state’s office, turnout in 2000 was 70.1 percent.  That is, more than 2.6 million registered voters didn’t bother to show up.  The de facto “none of the above” certainly swamped Nader votes.  We really don’t know if the Nader voters would have voted for Bush or Gore or stayed home.
Ah! I just dug deeper, and Prof. Michael McDonald has taken his Election Project to the University of Florida.  See  McDonald claims that more than four million eligible Florida voters didn’t show up (he’s counting eligible rather than registered).  Both Bush and Gore came in a distant second to “I don’t give a damn.”  That’s a helluva way to run a country.
Are you following the polls?  I say don’t bother because polls don’t determine elections.  You showing up can turn polls on their head.  Think about the 1948 post-election headline: “Dewey wins!”  The papers rushed to publish based on a telephone poll showing Dewey ahead.  However, the pollsters didn’t compensate for many Democratic voters not having telephones.
Even polls that claim to call people on landlines and cellphones may be missing an important clue.  Many people have caller ID; if they don’t know the caller, they don’t answer.  Have you seen any polls that mention the no-response rate?
Another classic example of polls really missing the mark is the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election.  The polls had Skip Humphrey in the lead, Norm Coleman second, and Jesse Ventura last.  The results were Jesse Ventura winning, Norm Coleman second, and Skip Humphrey last.  I think that Jesse Ventura’s complaint about the auto-emission testing stations and the high taxes on his fancy cars resonated with a lot of drivers.  You can rest assured that somebody didn’t design their poll well.
Many rightfully complain about all the money in politics.  But the high spenders don’t always win.  Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, former CEOs of major tech companies, spent oodles of their own money to run for office in California.  Neither was elected.
Big spenders who lose are not confined to one party.  I had the pages up the other day that gave the spending by each party in the presidential elections.  Surprise—the bigger spender wasn’t always the Republican candidate.  And when the bigger spender was a Democrat, that candidate didn’t always win the general election, hanging chads or not.
A practice that has really gotten worse in recent years is the attack ads.  Candidate Joe will raise your taxes even mo’.  Candidate Tom doesn’t beat the drum for the military enough.  Candidate Bill didn’t spend enough on infrastructure (never mind that he did vote for a ten percent increase).  The silliest I’ve seen is that Al Franken voted with the president 85 percent of the time.  Duh!  When Bush was president, how often did Republican members of Congress vote with the president?  I would hope it was not 100 percent but definitely between 75 percent and 90 percent.
We can avoid many attack ads by not watching TV, but they appear on billboards, in the newspapers, and even on web pages.  I was surprised to see a silly attack ad on a web page against Stewart Mills, who is running for Rick Nolan’s congressional seat.  It was on a website of a Wisconsin company!  The web knows whether you have been naughty or nice.
The purpose of attack ads is not to get you to vote for the attacker but to not show up at all.  Gosh!  I thought Sen. Foghorn was a great guy, but I guess I won’t bother showing up to vote for him this year.
So what’s a poor, confused citizen to do with all this obfuscation?
First, find all the neutral sources you can for information.  I know, there aren’t many of those.  About the best we can do is to read the candidates’ own statements in newspapers or on the web.
Second, show up and vote.  The only votes that don’t count are the votes not cast.
If you believe in democracy, you must be part of the demos—that is, the people.

Mel hopes that he has to wait in line to vote.