In just a few days we have the opportunity to participate in one of our most important functions as citizens of Wisconsin and the United States: voting for people to represent us locally and at the state and national levels. When the founders established our Constitution, they envisioned representative democracy as a republic that encourages every citizen who meets the eligibility requirements (age, citizenship) to cast a vote. February 16 is primary election day in Wisconsin for our Supreme Court and local government officials, including mayors and circuit judges.
Unfortunately spring election voter participation in Wisconsin has fallen. In 2013 only 20.45 percent of all those eligible actually voted in our spring election.
In 1998 I had the privilege to lead a group of young political leaders from the United States to observe elections in the Republic of China, Taiwan. We spent our time in the capital, Taipei, and excitement around the mayoral election was captivating. The rallies we observed with three competing political parties were downright inspirational. I couldn’t understand a single word in any of the speeches but you could feel the excitement in the air from the audience responses. We went to observe at three polling locations and I was just amazed how enthusiastic the voters were. By the end of the day 80.89 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballots.
What a difference in voter turnout between Taiwan and Wisconsin’s very next local elections, in 2000, with only 20.92 percent voter turnout. Thirteen years later we have dropped to 20.45 percent. I think that’s a very sad affair for a mature democracy like Wisconsin. To show how serious they were in Taiwan about their elections, each polling station was guarded by a member of the military of the Republic of China to ensure a safe and fair election. We take that all for granted, and most of our citizens don’t even take time to vote.
Ironically, that means each of us who does vote will play an especially significant role in electing our next Supreme Court justice, whether that is Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald, or Appeals Court Judge Jo Anne Kloppenburg. The choice is yours.
Don’t forget there are also primaries all across Wisconsin for other offices at the local level as well, and you can play a significant role. I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I want to encourage you to participate by going to your local polling station and casting your own informed vote. Because another small turnout is projected, each vote will make a greater difference.
Your vote in the February 16 primary is the first step in determining who is on the ballot for the April 5 general spring election; candidates who don’t come through the primary won’t be on the ballot in the spring. In addition to filling the state and local government positions on April 5, you’ll get the opportunity to have your say in the Wisconsin Presidential Primary, which will very likely still be going hot and heavy with the nominee of one or both parties not yet selected.
Yes! Your vote counts
If you doubt that it’s worthwhile to turn out and vote, consider how close the margins have been in very important elections through our nation’s history:
• In 1960 John F. Kennedy won Hawaii by 115 votes, a winning margin of 0.0622614 percent.
• In 1948, Lyndon Johnson won a Texas primary for the U.S. Senate by only 87 votes out of 988,295 cast, earning the nickname “Landslide Lyndon” but putting him on the path to win the presidency by an real landslide in 1964.
• Rick Santorum won the Iowa Caucus in 2012 by 34 votes, a margin of only 0.02794 percent.
• And we won’t soon forget the U.S. presidential race of 2000, decided by George W. Bush winning Florida by 537 votes out of 5,962,657 cast—a margin of 0.00901 percent.
All of those elections featured big turnouts but a comparative few votes made the difference. In a low turnout election, each vote is a larger percentage of the whole, thus every voter has a greater impact in deciding the outcome.