In Our View: No Affection for Election

Process works best when voters are engaged, but enthusiasm appears lacking

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It’s filing week in the state of Washington, that thrilling time of year when candidates for elected office officially throw their hats into the ring. OK, so it doesn’t grab quite the attention of, say, college signing day or the NFL Draft or the announcement of the Academy Award nominations — but it does serve as the official start of campaign season.

It also means that it’s time to mark your calendars: Ballots will be available July 16 (just 63 days away); the primary election is Aug. 5; and the general election is Nov. 4. Local races of note promise to be the election of a county commissioner to replace Steve Stuart, who resigned last month; Jaime Herrera Beutler running for re-election as the representative from Washington’s 3rd Congressional District; open seats for all of Clark County’s state representatives (as well as the rest of Washington); and a new Clark County Sheriff to replace Garry Lucas, who is not seeking re-election after holding the job for more than two decades.

That’s enough to have voters starting a countdown calendar in anticipation of the excitement that comes only with a midterm election, right? Isn’t it? Hello? Anybody there?

It turns out that Americans in general are not all that fired up about this year’s election. Political wonks might be — at least with Republicans hopeful of maybe, possibly, somehow gaining control of the Senate — but all the Joe the Plumbers out there have been slow to catch Election Fever. A new Gallup poll shows that among registered voters across the country, 53 percent say they are less enthusiastic about voting than in previous elections, while 35 percent are more enthusiastic.

Let’s see . . . 53 minus 35, borrow the 1 . . . in the vernacular of public opinion polls, these numbers represent an 18-point enthusiasm deficit, which sounds like something that will require the attention of a doctor. Among Republicans and Republican-

leaning independents, the enthusiasm deficit is 8 points, while for Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, the deficit is 23 points. Experts say that is bad news for Democrats, demonstrating that Republicans likely will be more motivated to go to the polls in November. “Typically, the party whose supporters have an advantage in enthusiasm has done better in midterm elections,” said the report from Gallup. In 1994, 2002 and 2010, early Gallup polling showed more enthusiasm among Republicans, and the party went on to win a majority or add seats in the House of Representatives. That also might be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the Gallup report noted: “Enthusiasm may also be an expression of voters’ optimism or pessimism about whether their party will have a strong or weak showing in the election.”

On the other hand, it is difficult to find enthusiasm for any elections these days. Last year, in an off-year election, meaning there were no federal positions on the ballot (although Vancouver was voting for the marquee positions of mayor and several city council positions), a total of 37.6 percent of registered Clark County voters bothered to turn in their ballots — one of the lowest percentages among Washington’s 39 counties. When you include adults who don’t even bother to register, the numbers appear even more apathetic.

That certainly is up to the individual voters, and a nonvoter is preferable to an uninformed voter, but representative democracy works best when people are informed and engaged and feel they have a voice in the process. Candidates are filing for office this week; let the games begin.