Poli-Tea raises the important question of low voter turnout and third parties

d.eris writes on Poli-Tea:

Arguably, one of the most important strategic questions for independent and third party activists is how to motivate non-voters in future elections. Voter turn-out was quite low, for instance, in the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, where 39% and roughly 45% (according to my calculations) of registered voters cast a ballot, respectively. Thus, though Bob McDonnell received 60% of the vote in Virginia, he only garnered the explicit support of 24% of registered Virginia voters. Similarly, in New Jersey, Chris Christie received 49% of the vote, but only garnered the explicit support of less than a quarter of New Jersey’s registered voters. Partisans of the Democratic-Republican Party and supporters of the two-party state frequently maintain that low voter turn-out is a sign either of voter apathy or satisfaction. Yet, it might also express a rejection of the two-party political order as such.

Consider the following speculative scenario, which is somewhat fantastic. A majority of voters desire the election of third party and independent alternatives to the representatives of the political status-quo, as is consistently indicated in public opinion polls. However, they and many others are convinced that third party and independent alternatives are not viable candidates for office and do not stand a chance of winning because the two-party system is based on the election of Democrats and Republicans. On election day, a majority of serial non-voters appear at the polls, and cast blank ballots. “Blank” wins in a landslide.

Read the full thing here.  And please discuss this very important topic in the comments.

29 thoughts on “Poli-Tea raises the important question of low voter turnout and third parties

  1. Morgan Brykein

    Countries with multi-party systems typically have much higher voter turnout. A lot of people aren’t willing to compromise and vote for the “lesser of two evils.”

  2. Morgan Brykein

    And, these people don’t typically vote for third party candidates because they don’t know much about them. The media acts as a smokescreen for third parties, and so the people have no idea about their existence. Thus, few people vote for them, and they do poorly in the polls. And because they do poorly in polls and votes, the media treats them as “insignificant.”

  3. Robert Milnes

    Presumably there will be high Libertarian and Green voter turnout for the special elections in MA &CA in January because of the prospect that they might actually win for a change.

  4. Robert Capozzi

    Hmm, well, if NOTA *is* on the ballot in NV, is voter turnout appreciably larger on percentage terms in NV than in other states?

    If it isn’t, then NOTA isn’t especially consequential.

    Off the top of my head, I suspect there are more coherent reasons why off-year elections have lower turnouts. Perhaps, for ex., those elections are viewed as less important, and therefore not worthy of the time it takes to vote.

  5. d.eris

    Robert @7: Voter turnout in off year elections is generally lower, but I think it would be hard to argue that these were unimportant elections, in NJ and VA the off year elections were their gubernatorial elections.

    I thought I’d also mention that the “fantastic” scenario isn’t so far fetched. During the fiasco in the NYS legislature earlier this year, the NYT reported: “[State Senators] Mr. Bonacic and Mr. Kruger, for instance, were given a tough time by voters who went to the polls but did not vote for a senator as they chose candidates for other offices — and were thus recorded as ‘blank’ by the state’s Board of Elections. If ‘blank’ were a candidate, he or she would have beaten Mr. Bonacic by several hundred votes. Mr. Kruger would have held off ‘blank,’ but only by a 50-to-47 margin.”

    At the time, I did a bit more digging, and found that: “According to the New York State Board of Elections, 161, 786 voters turned out for the 2008 election in the state’s 1st Senate district. The state Senate seat was won by Kenneth P. LaValle, who ran unopposed and garnered 63, 058 votes. On the other hand, 80, 692 voters preferred to vote for “Blank” rather than Mr. LaValle when filling out their ballots.”

  6. Melty

    strange thing, voter turnout . . . low turnout in local elections, though there is a wee chance of casting the deciding vote, yet much higher turnout for national elections, though there’s no chance of casting the deciding vote

  7. Robert Capozzi

    d.e, VA’s is always off year. We could check, but I believe the trend in VA at least is voter turnout is always way down even in the off years that the guv’s office is open.

  8. d.eris

    Robert C, same with NJ’s off year gov elections, right? In mid-term elections, voter turnout seems to have hovered in the 30% range for the last 30 years. For an off year election, 39% and 45% might be a relatively high rate of participation then. But, this year in VA, voter turnout was at a 40 year low! At least according to the linked article.

  9. Nate

    NOTA (or blank) should be handled thus:

    1) 50% + 1 vote should be required to be elected on the first ballot. (NOTA counts as a vote and therefore reduces the chance of a candidate reaching the 50% mark, which is what you are trying to achieve when voting NOTA.)

    2) If no candidate receives 50% + 1 vote (or NOTA does), a runoff election is held between the top two candidates. If NOTA is not one of those candidates, normal runoff rules apply. If NOTA is one of the top two, a new election is held without NOTA or any of the original candidates (except the other “top two” candidate), where any other person can run. No petitions are required and only a very minimal filing fee is charged. A short amount of time is given to file and campaign before the election (say 6 weeks). This allows NOTA to be replaced by none of the above, if someone can actually be found.

    That would be a decent use of NOTA.

    Example:
    A : 45%
    B : 10%
    C : 5%
    NOTA : 40%

    Runoff between A and “none of the above”, so new election is called. A is automatically on the ballot. B and C cannot be put on the ballot. D, E, F and G can file to run, leading to:

    A : 51%
    D : 20%
    E : 19%
    F : 6%
    G : 4%

    And A is elected. Notice that NOTA cannot be chosen on the second ballot.

    (The only open question is what to do if in the new election noone gets 50% + 1 vote. You could have a top two runoff, but that means 3 elections total, which is a lot.)

  10. Aroundtheblockafewtimes

    Has anyone compiled a graph showing voter turnout over, say the last century? One theory is that voting used to be less anonymous – your union bosses knew if you voted, your employer knew, your trade association knew, your neighbors knew. As automobiles became popular, and television and other distractions that lessened “community involvement,” it became far easier and more acceptable to be estranged from prying eyes who knew if one voted or not. Today, when you may not know the name of your neighbor three doors down and your party’s committeeman (if you even belong to a party) never stops by with a turkey or other perk for supporting his party, it is very easy to escape any social shunning because you failed to vote.

  11. Melty

    I could see letting the fifty percentile line be of no more significance than any other percentile.

    How about if nota wins, just prop up a blank cardboard cutout in office behind the desk and leave it until the next election cycle?

  12. Richard Winger

    Political scientists, and the Census Bureau, have compiled voter turnout statistics all the way back to 1824. The highest voter turnout in U.S. history was in the 1870’s and 1880’s (of course, this takes into consideration which voters were permitted to vote). There were no ballot access laws back in the 1870’s and 1880’s. The real reason turnout was so high back then was that, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the sectional divisions in the nation were still intense. Presidential elections were excruciatingly close in the 1870’s and 1880’s, and everyone perceived that it made a huge difference which major party won. White southeners passionately wanted the Democratic Party to win, both for president, and for control of the U.S. House, which see-sawed back and forth almost every two years.

  13. Solomon Drek

    I don’t know if this “analysis” intentionally ignored Chris Daggett’s nonimpact on the NJ governor’s race or not. Daggett received public financing, appeared in debates with Christie and Corzine, received the endorsement of the largest newspaper in the state, and was polling as high as 20% two weeks before the election. Yet he received little more than 5% which less than Christie’s margin of victory.

    BTW I was one of the few voters who said they would vote for Daggett and did. Evidently many more Daggett supporters got “wasted vote syndrome” and voted for Christie instead. Hence his rather substantial margin of victory.

    I also said I would write-in Bob Milnes for Governor and “Uncle Floyd” Vivino for Lieutenant-Governor but I changed my mind when it appeared Daggett might have a significant impact on the race.

    I think Daggett’s real problem was money. With no ideological base of supporters he could not raise money from out-of-state and while voters might say they want alternatives they’re obviously not willing to put any money where their sentiment is. Also when it appeared likely Daggett might swing the election to Corzine the Republican Governor’s Association poured almost a million dollars into a negative ad campaign against Daggett only days before the election. Daggett had neither the time or the money to respond to those attacks and subsequently dropped in the polls.

  14. Susan Hogarth

    Nate @14, if the voters choose “NOTA”, why start looking for other candidates? Why not let the office go unfilled?

  15. Ross Levin Post author

    I thought the NOTA part of this blog post was less important than the idea of using voter registration and voter turnout to boost third party votes, especially in special elections and odd year elections.

  16. d.eris

    Solomon @18: in the “analysis” I did intentionally leave out mention of Daggett’s showing in the race. But that was the point, sort of. As you say, “he received little more than 5% which less than Christie’s margin of victory.” On the other hand, the 55% or so of registered voters who did not bother to vote represent more than twice the margin between Daggett and Christie. If Daggett had been able to convince 1 out of 2 non-voters to vote for him, he would have won.

  17. robert capozzi

    sh, my inner anarchist one ups you: all offices should require a super-majority of all registered voters or remain unfilled. Those who ARE elected can be thrown in jail, as being elected is evidence of criminal intent 😉

  18. Robert Milnes

    Ross Levin @20, right. When activists go around MA & CA knocking on doors explaining the PLAS, voter registration can be one of the items discussed. Whether it is too late for that particular election or not.

  19. Thomas L. Knapp

    “Also when it appeared likely Daggett might swing the election to Corzine”

    That’s sort of like saying “when it appeared that yellow was the same color as burnt umber.”

    The polls I saw said that a majority of voters polling for Daggett had Corzine as their second choice. Thus, anything that hurt Daggett helped Corzine, not Christie.

  20. Brandon Trent

    VA turnout is exceptionally low in local races or when there is election of only the House and the Senate. Alot of people I talked to about the Governors race said they just dont vote. When asked why the response was “Its not really all that important” Its a sad thing….but the reality is you cant force people to vote one way or the other. We have to target those who do vote in order to make an impact and thats where the third parties have failed.

  21. Ross Levin Post author

    Brandon, I completely disagree. A lot of people don’t even know that these elections happen – just telling everyone in a community about the election is often enough to change the outcome.

  22. Nate

    @19: Susan,

    I guess we have differing opinions on what “none of the above” means. You seem to think it means “noone” and I think it means “someone other than those listed above.” The truth of the matter is that we’re both wrong, but combining our views would cover all the bases. I wouldn’t mind seeing both NOONE and NOTA on every ballot:

    Choose one:
    A
    B
    Leave office unfilled
    None of the above

  23. Dave Schwab

    In Russia in the early 1990s, there was an option to cast your vote “against all”. They got rid of it, apparently because it was more popular than they expected.

    On a related note, Ralph Nader has been a vocal proponent of a binding none-of-the-above option on ballots.

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