Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach late last week projected voter turnout for Tuesday’s primary election at 22 percent. Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo didn’t even go that high, estimating that 20 percent of Riley Countians would cast ballots.
That’s pathetic, and it’s hardly mitigated by the fact that in the past three statewide primaries, actual turnout exceeded the projections. After all, the high water mark since 2008 was 25.2 percent in 2010, the year in which then-Secretary of State Chris Biggs projected turnout at 19 percent.
There are lots of reasons for the lousy turnout, most of them lame: There are no close races… My candidates will win — or lose — regardless whether I vote… It’s too hot… I’m busy… I’m not busy, I’m just lazy and don’t care… I hate waiting in line…
Well, we don’t know what it takes to make people care, but with 22-percent turnout, you don’t need to worry about a line. If you want something to worry about, worry that any number of actual voters in excess of half of 22 percent would be enough to nominate candidates in most races — those with two candidates. That’s no way to elect our leaders. In the Republican insurance commissioner race, which has five candidates, the reality is worse. Even fewer than 10 percent of registered Republican voters would probably be enough to nominate that party’s candidate.
If you’re not even a little distressed or embarrassed that roughly one in five Kansans who are eligible to vote will do so this election, consider the opportunity you’re giving to those who do vote. Consider the authority you’re ceding to a very small minority of your fellow citizens. You don’t know whether they think like you do and will nominate candidates who meet your approval. They might have an agenda that has little to do with governing. Heck, they might nominate people you regard as incompetent or dishonest.
They have this power because they don’t assume that their candidates will win — or lose. It isn’t too hot for them to vote. They’re not too busy. They care. They probably don’t like waiting in line any more than you do, but if it’s necessary, they’ll wait a few minutes.
They recognize opportunity when it comes their way. Chances are, they appreciate — even treasure — this right to vote that doesn’t seem to matter to many of their fellow citizens.
They’re choosing your leaders, so you better hope they choose wisely.