Regardless of the outcome, the election of 2020 could go down in history as a great awakening of American democracy. The chaos of the past four years, combined with this year’s pandemic and racial unrest, has coalesced into what appears to be record voter turnout.
That turnout is fueled in large part by first-time voters. As of last week, according to USA Today, more than 6 million first-time voters across the nation had already cast ballots; at a similar point in the 2016 election, an estimated 4.4 million first-time voters had participated.
That burgeoning interest in voting is not limited to those who are newly eligible to vote. While citizens who have reached the voting age of 18 over the past four years and newly naturalized citizens have turned out, so have older voters who previously were never motivated to cast a ballot. TargetSmart estimates that about 40 percent of first-time voters are over the age of 40.
For many, there had been a lingering sense that their vote didn’t matter or that they didn’t care enough to become informed. A combination of ignorance about the candidates and apathy about the process for years has undermined voter turnout in the United States.
This year, for many, that has given way to a desire for having their voices heard.
In Clark County, as of Monday morning, nearly 229,000 registered voters had turned in ballots. That already surpassed the entire 2016 turnout of 210,760 in the county — a trend that is being repeated throughout the country.
And there is room for more. Ballots postmarked before 8 p.m. today will be counted, as will those turned in to official drop boxes before the deadline.
People who have not yet registered to vote may do so in person by 8 tonight at the county elections office at 1408 Franklin St. in Vancouver. To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old; a resident of Clark County; not disqualified from voting due to a court order; and not under Department of Corrections supervision for a Washington felony conviction. Items that must be provided, such as a driver’s license or ID card, are listed on the Clark County Elections website.
Since the 2016 election, more than 50,000 registered voters have been added to the rolls in Clark County. That includes more than 20,000 who have registered since the August primary.
While the surge in registrations and voting interest bodes well for the future of American democracy, we also offer a reminder, particularly for first-time voters: You can’t win them all. Some of your preferred candidates will be elected; some of them will not. Do not be discouraged by a particular outcome.
Representative democracy is a process, one that plays out over years or even generations. While high-profile elections for president or governor or congressional representative receive the bulk of the attention from voters and the media, the outcome of county council races or legislative contests often have a greater impact on our daily lives. Policies that eventually grow into national issues often begin at the local or state level.
Locally elected officials help determine local land-use policies and environmental protections and school curriculums and tax rates and expenditures that have an immediate impact on our quality of life.
All of which is a way of saying that we welcome all the first-time voters and those who are newly motivated to embrace democracy. We trust that it will be a long-term relationship.