On Saturday, October 22, the country witnessed yet another major election decided by far less than half of eligible voters. Even with weekend voting and its unique “open primary” system that puts every candidate in the general election, only 31.4% of eligible voters made it to Louisaian's polls to vote for governor and nearly every other elected office in the state.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R) was running for re-election, facing nine opponents. With an overwhelming majority of the vote (66%), Jindal won easily and gained bragging rights for having carried every one of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. Pearson Cross, professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, attributed the low turnout rate to the lack of competitiveness surrounding the governor’s race.
In 1975, Louisiana implemented an open primary structure in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on the same ballot on Election Day. Democratic leaders were unable to provide a viable candidate in the gubernatorial race. Although several candidates filed as Democrats, their top candidate won just 18%.
It was the same story in the state legislature, which Democrats controlled just a few years ago. There were 39 seante seats up for grabs. Democrats ran candidates in only 16 of these races which meant that Republicans automatically won the 23 remaining seats. [Democrats] won 15 of the 16 senate races in which they competed.
Republicans also swept all seven statewide races, with Democrats only trying in three contests and falling short of a third of the vote in all of them. When parties run candidates only for the seats they believe they can win, voter choices are inherently limited; races are decided before the voters have a chance to cast their ballots.
So while Governor Jindal celebrated his successful re-election thanking the people of Louisiana, only one-million residents of Louisiana were able to reply, “You’re welcome, Governor.” It’s a serious issue that has been seen in states like West Virginia, New York and Nevada in just the past two months alone. Experts expect more of the same in upcoming elections for governor next month in Kentucky and Mississippi and state legislative races in New Jersey and Virginia.
Whether it’s a lack of competition due to uncontested seats or a lack of faith in the government, this recurrent problem of low turnout in elections across the country means that our democracy is far from being representative. When you think of a country where government is supposed to be “by the people and for the people,” do you think of a government that functions without hearing from 60% or more of its people? It’s time to reexamine what our expectations of a democracy are, and demand a democracy in which all voices are heard.
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