Opinion: One way to tackle low voter turnout

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Voter turnout in this neck of the woods is pretty pathetic.

That’s not even up for debate.

In the May primary, only 29 percent of Kootenai County’s registered voters bothered to cast a ballot.

And that’s only part of the problem. About half the county’s eligible voters didn’t even register.

It’s not just us, either.

Check out this passage from Washington Monthly magazine …

“It’s no secret that American democracy is in a bad way. In the last midterm elections, only about 37 percent of eligible adults voted — the worst showing since World War II.

“Trump fever may push that number up in November, or it may not.

“The Alabama Senate election last December, in which Democrat Doug Jones won a surprise victory, was heralded for its unusually high turnout for a special election — yet even that was only 40 percent of registered voters and less than 30 percent of eligible adults, showing how low our expectations have fallen.”

APATHY IS part of this equation, no doubt. Plenty of people are weary of ALL politicians.

But there is another group in this mix, mostly young people who actually say they care about issues and who represents them at local, state and national levels — but just don’t have the passion, energy or whatever to go stand in line to vote.

You may remember that I’ve borrowed this quote before, a sardonic summation from Josh Misner, NIC communications professor: “When they can make voting for political office as easy as voting on American Idol, results will be very different.”

Well, phoning in a vote for president or governor is probably out of the question.

However, there is an option taking hold that may push voters closer to Misner’s joking solution.

It’s called “Vote at Home,” or VAH.

The premise is changing our electoral system from opt-in to opt-out.

The idea is simple: Instead of going to a designated polling place, every registered voter automatically receives a ballot in the mail.

Voters have a window of time, typically two weeks, to fill out the ballot and either mail it back or drop it off at a secure site.

IT’S NOT like this is pure theory, either.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington already are using it. California and Utah are phasing in VAH.

The system is in place for certain districts in nine more states, and serious implementation efforts are rolling in eight more beyond that.

So what about Idaho?

Hmmmm …

There has been some pushback from Republicans nationally against VAH, presumably because they fear the math. There simply are more registered (or yet to register) Democrats across the nation, so anything that dramatically raises turnout might not look so good.

On the other hand, during Colorado’s first attempt using the mail-out, mail-back voting method in 2014, Democrat Mark Udall lost his Senate seat.

And enthusiasm for VAH in Utah, where Democrats are an endangered species?

There goes a damn good theory.

STATE SEN. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, insists that Republicans in Idaho never would block ways to increase voter participation.

“The idea of mailing ballots to be returned that way has been discussed,” she said. “It’s not feasible now, because the secretary of state’s office is going through a technology change.”

Souza claims she would jump right in on “Vote at Home” if two conditions were met.

“First, a person would have to go register as we do now, because that’s an affirmative action,” she said. “I definitely would need to see that.

“Second, we’d have to know that signatures were secure and validated, which would require reliable technology.

“But I can tell you without a doubt that Republicans would never oppose anything that increases voter turnout, because participation helps us all.”

Mary’s right about that, and it’s heartening to hear a fairly conservative Republican suggest she’d be all-in for a system that would boost the number of voters.

Now, for Idaho to get past the fiddling stage with its technology …

Might be a while.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Facebook: Steve Cameron

Twitter:@BrandNewDayCDA

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