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Sunday, October 1, 2023
Oct. 1, 2023

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In Our View: With elections, if you don’t play you can’t win

The Columbian

On the playground, if somebody takes the ball and goes home, nobody can participate.

Elections don’t work like that. When it comes to voting, petulant and truculent tantrums don’t stop the process. They only guarantee defeat.

It is difficult to say whether that played a role in the recent midterm elections in Washington; voters might sit out an election for a variety of reasons, including disinterest or dissatisfaction with all the candidates. But it is likely that Republicans did not help their cause through two years of sowing doubt in the election process and lying about election fraud.

A year ago, former President Donald Trump released a statement saying: “If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud, Republicans will not be voting in ’22 and ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”

It is presumptuous for a failed candidate to suggest he can keep supporters from voting; but decorum and a grasp of reality are not among Trump’s attributes. He also made similar assertions on other occasions, repeating fraud claims that have been thoroughly debunked.

In addition, following the 2020 general election, Trump and his acolytes urged supporters to sit out two runoff elections for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. Analysts believe that contributed to Democratic victories in both elections.

The strategy of encouraging supporters to not vote is, by definition, a losing one. And in assessing the impact of that strategy, a comparison with 2018 is somewhat instructive. So is a look at the counties that comprise Eastern Washington, which as a general statement are reliably Republican.

As with this year, the 2018 election was a midterm that included a race for the U.S. Senate in Washington. That year, Sen. Maria Cantwell won reelection; this year, Patty Murray was returned to the Senate by voters.

While vote totals for the Nov. 8 election are not final, most of the count has been completed. Statewide voter turnout thus far stands at 63 percent; in 2018, the final total was 72 percent.

But through Monday’s vote totals, voter turnout in Washington’s 20 easternmost counties had declined more precipitously. In 2018, voter turnout in those counties was 70.5 percent; as of Monday, this year’s turnout was 58.9 percent.

Not only are counties in Eastern Washington not increasing in population as rapidly as those west of the Cascades, but voters are less inclined to participate in the process. The result, in part, was that Murray won reelection by 15 percentage points in what was expected to be a close race against Republican Tiffany Smiley, and that a Democrat was elected as secretary of state for the first time in 58 years.

Among the Founding Fathers who devised our political system, several often warned about the fractiousness of political parties. While we can agree with their concerns about the deleterious impact of tribalism — and while we can see it on a daily basis in our modern politics — a two-party system has evolved and Americans must make the best of it.

Making that system work, however, requires active participation from both sides — both in elections and in governance. We hope to have seen the last of Republicans encouraging Republicans to not vote; it is a stratagem that undermines our democracy and harms their own party’s chance of winning elections.

Because those elections will continue regardless, being decided by eligible voters who choose to participate.