Capital Region

Foss: High voter turnout a cause for celebration

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Categories: News, Sara Foss

Let’s do this every year.

Elections often bring stories about voter malaise, apathy and low turnout. Columnists such as myself ponder why more people don’t vote, and what else can be done to get more people to the polls.

It’s early – Election Day is Tuesday, after all – but I doubt we’ll be writing those stories and columns this year.

If early voting turnout is any indication, overall voter turnout in this year’s presidential election is going to be high – perhaps even record-breaking.

I voted Thursday at the Albany County Board of Elections, waiting in a short line outside for about five minutes before being hustled indoors and handed a ballot and a pen. As always, it gave me chills to see other Americans participating in this most basic and important of democratic processes.

Nationwide, voting has already hit 50 percent of total ballots cast in 2016 – an impressive accomplishment. What I’ve detected, in conversations with people, is a pent-up eagerness to get out there and vote.

It’s been great to see such high demand for voting.

My question: Why don’t we do this for every election?

I get why there’s so much interest in this year’s presidential election.

Democrats are motivated – they detest President Donald Trump, and want to vote him out. Republicans are motivated, too. They like Trump, and want to re-elect him. It all adds up to a charged political environment that’s unlike anything I can really recall.

What I’d like to see is a little more of this enthusiasm in other elections.

Yes, presidential elections are important.

But so are our state and local elections.

Every year, we vote for local and state officials – for city council members, county legislators, school board members and others. We vote for our representatives in Congress and at the state Capitol. We vote for school budgets and other important ballot measures.

Voter turnout in non-presidential elections is usually quite dismal, and I understand that, too.

Engaging in local politics takes a certain amount of energy.

Even voters who pride themselves on being informed might find themselves flummoxed by certain ballot items.

I often have a hard time deciding who ought to get my vote for school board, to name one example. And I’ll admit that it’s hard to generate the same enthusiasm for voting for a five-term member of the New York state Senate with no opponent as it is for a potential future president.

But it’s still important to participate in local and state elections, even the boring, predictable ones.

More voting equals more engagement, more involvement in what’s going on in our own communities, and that’s a good thing.

Imagine if our local and state races generated even a fraction of the excitement as this year’s presidential contest.

Would it lead to more competition and more candidates? More responsiveness to the concerns of the public? More accountability for those in power?

We can have a better politics, and better government, too.

But only if we take an interest in what’s happening in our cities, towns and state, and exercise our right to vote even when the names at the top of the ballot aren’t Biden or Trump.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

 

 

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