Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Yesterday, May 15, was election day in Oregon. Very few people bothered to vote. This worries me.

Yes, this election was the primary election; the "real" election is in November. But a lot of important decisions were made in this primary, and these decisions were made by a minority of the eligible voters.

Let's look at the primary election for Mayor of the City of Portland. Portland is mostly in Multnomah County, but small parts of the city are in Clackamas and Washington Counties. Of registered voters, 28.5% voted in Washington County, 35% in Clackamas County, and 28.1% in Multnomah County.

A total of 86,893 votes were cast for the position of Portland Mayor (numbers as of this morning as per web sites for each county election office). I could not find the number of voters registered in Portland for this election, so let's use the number I did find: 352,041 registered voters in Portland for the 2008 general election. Do the calculation and we get 24.7% of the registered voters bothered to cast their votes. Pathetic!! 

There were three real contenders for the position of Portland Mayor in this primary election; Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith. Here are the results (again, as of this morning, as per the web site for each county): 

          Eileen Brady:          21,482 (24.7% of the votes cast)
          Charlie Hales:        36,226 (41.7%)
          Jefferson Smith:     29,185 (33.6%).

Let's look at the vote for each candidate as a percentage of the eligible voters, shall we: 

          Eileen Brady:           6.1%
          Charlie Hales:       10.3%
          Jefferson Smith:      8.3% 

So about 1/4 of the eligible voters determined who will be in the run-off election for Portland Mayor (the top 2 candidates: Hales and Smith). The candidate with the most votes, Hales, got votes from 10 percent of the eligible voters; hardly a mandate. 

I don't get it. Why don't people vote? This election decided a number of local, state and federal positions, as well as some local ballot measures and bond measures. If one-fourth of the voters bother to cast a ballot, what does that say about democracy? 

I've always thought that we should have a law that determines who has a say on government issues. If there is a public hearing on a specific topic, only people who have voted in the last election should be allowed in (with the exception of those too young to vote). Letters to elected representatives should be tossed if the writer didn't vote. Living in a democracy should have conditions - if you vote you have a say in things; if you don't vote - you have no standing. I've often wondered about people who show up for public meetings and hearings and give angry testimony against this or that - did they vote? 

I voted; I always vote. For me, voting is how I participate in the governance of this country, state and city. It's messy, and I worry about the big money and special interests involved these days, but I prefer this to the alternative.

Did you vote? I hope so.


  1. I don't get why people don't vote here in Oregon, where there is such a good system. Excellent voter info in the mail, and mail-in (or drop off at library etc.) ballots - and a paper trail. It's one of the few honest - and easy - voting systems in the country. People here ought to be honoring and celebrating that. They don't know how lucky they are.

    As I understand it, in Australia citizens are simply required by law to vote. You'd think this would result in a lot of mindless voting - but when it comes to mindless voters, could it be worse than here? Maybe when everyone is required to be involved in the process, it engenders more discussion and brings more people into the process in a meaningful way.

    There's plenty wrong with our election system, but as you say, there's always something on that ballot worth voting on even if (or maybe because!) so much of our political process is a sham. By not voting, people are making another kind of statement, wrongheaded though it may be.

  2. I can't agree on putting any restrictions on participation. People most often respond to restrictions with, not determination, but with the hell with it. I also believe that, once your conditions get approved, why not mine?