|Brent Cooper. Provided.|
At the NKY Chamber annual dinner this year, the new Chairman of the Board, Bob Heil (KLH Engineers), spoke passionately about the need for our community to increase voter turnout. He’s not alone. Leaders throughout our region, and the state, are now regularly talking about the negative consequences of low voter turnout.
Not only do we have less clout in Frankfort, but when fewer people vote, it increases the odds that a strong minority of people can push outcomes that go against the will of the people.
How bad is it?
Kentucky has around 4.5 million people. 3.5 million are eligible to vote, and 3.2 million are registered to vote.
In our most recent primary election, only 20% of registered voters actually voted. So, in a state of 4.5 million people, the primaries were decided by less than 640,000.
But that was actually better than 2012 when only 13% voted.
Gabe Summe, Kenton County’s clerk, has now worked 5 election cycles. She told me, “The primaries average around 10% of voters in Kenton County, and the general elections average out to around 20%.”
Put another way, in a county of 160,000 people, only 16,000 people vote in the primary, and only 32,000 vote in the general election. In counties where one party dominates, which is more often than not, the primary decides the election.
Gabe Summe and Kentucky’s Secretary of State Allison Grimes both publicly projected high voter turnout this Tuesday.
What constitutes “High voter turnout” in our state? Between 60%-65%. Folks, that’s just sad. In a community that values democracy, I submit we have a major problem.
So what’s the answer? In my opinion, we need to change how we vote.
In some countries, Australia for example, citizens are required to vote. If you don’t vote in Australia, you pay a fine! I don’t think something like that would pass here, but it sure would increase voter turnout, right?
No, I think the answer is allowing everyone to vote over a two-week period of time. Voting whenever is convenient, will increase voter turnout. If you think that would cost more, you’re wrong. Not only would voter turnout increase, it would save us money.
First of all, businesses are required to allow leave for employees so they can vote on a Tuesday. But, unfortunately, they aren’t required to provide paid leave. Despite not being required to do so, I know many businesses that provide paid leave to vote, mine does as well, but I don’t believe everyone does. Regardless, making it so people could vote when it’s convenient for them would help a lot of businesses, and their employees.
Second, if we voted over the first two weeks of November, that would include Veterans day, which is a holiday. Government agencies are closed on Veterans day, so those employees could vote on that day (if they wanted to). What a better way to celebrate our veterans than by making our democracy stronger?
Third, we already have some degree of early voting for a lot of people. College students, people traveling, elderly and disabled, and people in the military can all vote early. Women in their last trimester can vote early. If you are in the hospital, you can have a spouse or family member pick up an absentee ballot, bring it to the hospital, have them sign it, have it notarized (most hospitals have notaries on staff), and then the clerk’s office can give you a “live ballot” which your family member or spouse can physically turn in. It isn’t easy, but if you’re in the hospital, you can vote early.
If we were to transition to early voting across the board, for everyone, and eliminate election day itself, it could be big savings for some counties. Why? Because having everyone voting on the same day requires additional staff and resources. Spreading it out over a period of two weeks reduces the cost.
According to Summe, “It would save over $300,000 per year for Kenton County.”
If we were to also change how many elections we have, and move to voting for offices every other year, we could save even more. According to Gabe Summe, “Voting every other year would save Kenton County alone over 1.4 million dollars every four years.”
That’s one county in a state of 120 counties. Obviously, the amount saved would be different for some counties. I concede, in some areas, it may cost more. But from a statewide perspective, there’s no doubt we would see collective savings, and increased voter turnout.
Regardless of whether or not you like the idea, the bottom line is we need to do something different.
What is your idea for increasing voter turnout? Let’s have a conversation. My hope is that a serious dialogue on the issue will lead to solving a serious problem for our community, and potentially save us all some money.
We should change how we vote. It will improve the state we are in.