If you voted in last Tuesday’s primary, raise your hand.
Congratulations. You’re part of the small minority of Hoosiers who exercised a right that citizens around the world covet deeply and for which many still risk their lives.
For those of you with your hands down, here’s a question: Where were you?
That’s a serious inquiry, not an opening to a lecture on how awful it is that we Americans take our freedoms and franchises for granted.
About 19 percent of the 4.4 million registered voters in Indiana cast their ballots last Tuesday. In doing so, they made a heck of an impact. As longtime political observer Ed Feigenbaum notes in the May 14 edition of his Indiana Legislative Insight, the thumping that longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar took was historic.
In capturing only 39 percent of the vote — to the 61 percent won by his intraparty GOP rival Richard Mourdock — the long-revered Lugar became the first six-term Republican to ever lose re-election and only the third six-term incumbent to fall overall. The nature of Lugar’s loss in a system that massively favors incumbents, Feigenbaum argues, “cannot be underplayed in the pantheon of Hoosier and national history.”
Yet most of us sat on the sidelines while history came undone. Why?
Three-fourths of Indiana voters who did vote, did so in the Republican primary. That makes sense: the Lugar-Mourdock contest was the marquee race, so plenty of Democrats sat it out. And around the state, there were many state legislative seats that went uncontested, so that may have kept voter turnout down as well.
But there were some U.S. congressional races that were horse races and an assortment of other decisions — including some school referendums — that should have given more voters some reason to step away from their daily obligations and step into a voting booth.
The question I pose is based on an assumption that columnists Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt would dispute. The authors of “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” argued in a 2005 column that an individual voter has little real incentive to vote since close elections are exceedingly rare.
While we Americans love the mantra, “every vote counts,” it’s often a fallacy. Citing research that showed very few close elections in U.S. congressional and state legislative races over more than a century, they concluded: “The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim.”
Is that what happened in Tuesday’s primary? About 3 million Hoosiers individually decided that the cost of voting — in terms of their own time, effort and lost productivity — had no discernible payoff? Were we really thinking like rational economists?
Maybe so. Or maybe not.
That’s what I’d like to know from all the hands-down people out there. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at Maureen Hayden, CNHI Indiana Statehouse Bureau, Room M11, Indiana Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at Maureen.email@example.com.
If you voted in last Tuesday’s primary, raise your hand.
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