Not All Wanting To Go to the Polls

WHEELING – Some say they don’t have time. Others say negative messages have soured their outlook on politics, or that their vote won’t make a difference.

They – and many other Americans – will choose not to vote Tuesday.

West Virginia saw a 59-percent voter turnout for the 2008 presidential election, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. Turnout for the 2004 election in the Mountain State was 66 percent; in 2000, it was 62 percent.

Voter turnout has been higher in Ohio, where 69.97 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election, figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate. In 2004, turnout was 77.77 percent; in 2000, 63.73 percent.

Nationwide, voter turnout over the past several elections has been slightly above 50 percent.

Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, who is running unopposed in Tuesday’s election, said he believes political advertising is souring people on the political process.

“The negativity drives down interest in what people think about government,” he said. “The constant negative approach to campaigns fuels that issue, and it drives down any confidence in government. They believe people will do or say anything to get elected.

“I don’t know how you really resolve it,” he said. “But at some point, we will have to look at the influence of money in elections.”

Weather can play a role in voter turnout, said Michael McTeague, assistant professor emeritus at Ohio University Eastern. He suggested Ohio law requiring voters show identification also may deter some voters. Other times, registered voters may not want to take the time to vote, McTeague said.

“Voting is more contentious in urban centers than what we see here, and you have to wait in line,” he said. “We’re such a society that wants instant gratification. We want to do it now. And people also are sensitive to showing their identification – I’m not sure why. They see it as an imposition of authority and stay away.”

People also may not know much about the candidates or issues on the ballot, he said.

“They don’t know how they want to vote. Rather than make a mistake, they shy away,” McTeague said.

Robert Rupp, a member of the West Virginia Election Commission and professor of history at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said West Virginia has been working to make it easier for people to vote by establishing an early voting period.

“People tell you the key thing about voting is convenience, and about 30 percent of them tell you they are too busy on Election Day,” Rupp said.

But the state’s efforts aren’t resulting in overall higher voter turnouts, he said. Even though the state is making it “easier and easier” for residents to vote, they still aren’t doing so in high numbers.

Convenience “is not the reason – it must be psychological,” Rupp said. “They think, ‘My vote doesn’t count,’ ‘I’m not important,’ or ‘Politics isn’t important.’ Disengagement is more the problem than convenience.”

Rupp said former Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., in 1971 successfully introduced the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which was later ratified by states. The measure lowered the national voting age from 21 to 18. But Rupp said Randolph was greatly disappointed the nation’s youth didn’t turn out to vote after this victory, and those ages 18 to 25 are still among those least likely to participate in elections.