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Lloyd Omdahl, Published August 26 2012

Omdahl: They fail to grasp obvious

According to USA Today, 90 million people (45 percent of the electorate) will not vote in the upcoming November election. Among them will be 175,000 North Dakotans, or 35 percent of our eligible electorate.

While this is not an abnormal number of nonvoters, USA Today and Suffolk University conducted a nationwide survey to discover the reasons nonvoters would be sitting out the election.

As expected, the pollsters ran into a litany of alibis. Nonvoters claimed they were too busy, the candidates were unattractive, elections didn’t matter, nothing ever gets done, the party system needs overhauling, politics is corrupt, there isn’t any difference between the parties, etc., etc.

Before considering these excuses, we should note that most nonvoters are in the bottom one-third of the socioeconomic ladder. They are less educated – 60 percent have no more than a high school diploma – and have less income, both of which lead to lower civic involvement and less interest in the broader issues.

Not only are they out of the loop in elections but they are absent from a broad range of civic and community affairs. So nonvoting is just a continuation of their nonparticipatory behavior.

As a result, their explanations for nonvoting must be taken with a grain of salt. If pollsters had asked questions about other nonparticipatory behavior beside elections, they would find a broad pattern of disengagement from the greater community.

When nonvoters claim that elections don’t matter or nothing ever gets done, they fail to understand the nature of American government. Not much is supposed to get done. As a matter of fact, we all need to be reminded of that.

As stated in previous columns, our political system is classified as a “status quo” system. In general, we believe in a government with powers divided among three separate branches checking and balancing each other. This checking and balancing slows the whole process and kills initiatives.

Commenting in Federalist No. 22, Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the same checks and balances that prevent the government from doing wrong will also prevent government from doing good. He was right. (Who can argue with Alexander Hamilton?)

In the Today/Suffolk poll, more than half of the nonvoters supported either a third party or a multiparty system. The ills of our form of government will not be cured by complicating the electoral system. If nonvoters can’t handle a simple two-party system, they are even less likely to understand the nuances of a multiparty system.

As to the charge that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties, our electoral system forces candidates to hog the middle of the road. That’s where most of the votes are.

The Tea Party is doing its best to force the Republican Party away from the center, but their activities will not succeed over the long haul. The electoral system is unrelenting.

More than half of the nonvoters claimed that politics is corrupt. In a democracy, politics will reflect the ethics of the people. Politicians are no more corrupt than the general public. Their corruption is just better publicized.

Most of the criticisms by nonvoters are unfounded excuses concocted to explain a lifestyle of nonparticipation. If our goal is to lure them into civic life, education is the only vehicle for broadening their horizons and civic interest. There may be more hope with a better-educated next generation.


Omdahl is former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com