Voting Matters

Originally published on 3/5/2015

On February 24, Ridgefield conducted a referendum on the 10-acre sale to Charter Group (full disclosure: Democratic View advocated for approval of the referendum). Approximately, 16,480 registered Ridgefield voters (plus any unregistered owners of property assessed at $1,000+ who are over 18 and U.S. citizens) were eligible to participate. The referendum passed 1,114 to 450. Voter turnout was less than 9.5%.

Regardless of your position on the referendum, the low voter turnout disappoints. Low turnout is hardly unique to this latest referendum, but rather continues a long pattern of low turnout for other referenda and “off-year” elections.

Some states impose regressive restrictions intended as barriers to citizen voting. Such practices repress participation, are wholly anti-democratic and should be opposed wherever and whenever possible. However, none of those abhorrent practices exist in Connecticut.

Referendum polling was open 6am-to-8pm to accommodate work schedules and personal responsibilities. Ample polling capacity existed to ensure minimal waiting, and the polling place is disabled-accessible. Ridgefield residents could register or submit absentee ballots until the day before the referendum, including on the Saturday before the referendum, and anyone with a signature on file with DMV for state-issued driver license, permit or ID could register online.

Some observers may assume that voter apathy causes low turnout and that only those who care about an issue show up to vote. That conjecture probably doesn’t tell the whole story.

Many citizens subconsciously perceive voting as a solemn task they are called to perform once every few years to decide monumental questions.  That subconscious perception does not match reality. Today, referenda occur more frequently and pertain to more granular questions. At the same time, voters have far more demands on their time. Extended polling hours, late and online registration, and absentee ballots are extremely beneficial. Even with those accommodations, however, the logistics of voting are still not as easy or convenient as the logistics of other sensitive tasks citizens are required to perform.

Banking, for example, is an essential, identity-sensitive and confidential task most citizens must perform. In past eras, banking required physically exchanging paper documents, in person or by mail, with a live person in a bank branch building. Over the last two decades, banks employed the Internet and software to dramatically transform the logistics of their services. Today, a bank customer need never enter a bank building or send paper through the mail. A bank customer can check balances, schedule transfers, pay bills via check or credit card wholly online, and even deposit paper checks into her accounts via smartphone. There really is an “app” for all of it.

The example of online banking presents an interesting question for states and society: might voter participation in off-year elections and referenda increase if safe, secure, and robust “apps” became widely available to similarly transform the logistics of voting?

This column supplied by the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee