Andrea Whitsett, with Damien R. Meyer
July 23, 2018
This column first appeared July 22, 2018 at azcentral.
Opinion: Only 55 percent of eligible Arizona voters cast a ballot in 2016. Could a lack of information on offices and issues be part of the culprit?
We know too many potential voters are skipping Arizona elections. But why? And most importantly, what we can do about it?
Forty-five percent of registered and other eligible voting-age citizens in Arizona did not cast ballots in the 2016 election, one of the most contentious on record.
That finding and others are part of a new report from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and Morrison Institute for Public Policy. The report also shows that Arizona’s voter crisis could worsen unless steps are taken to address the problem.
Non-voters impact outcomes as much as voters
During a typical presidential election year, voter turnout among Arizona registered voters in the general election is in the mid-70 percent range, while turnout for non-presidential elections is between 46 percent and 60 percent.
Turnout for primary elections is significantly lower than turnout for general elections, between 20 percent and 30 percent of registered voters. Combined with other potential voters who do not register and thereby did not vote, non-voters are having nearly as much of an impact on Arizona elections as actual voters.
Millennials aren't getting involved
Two specific groups of voters show signs of exacerbating non-participation. The first group is Millennials. In the 2016 general election, one of the most contentious in recent memory, only 25 percent of votes were cast by Millennials, those who were age 20-35 at the time.
Yet that year, Millennials accounted for more than 49 percent of “potential” voters. Compare that to Baby Boomers, who cast more than 33 percent of the votes and who were registered to vote at a rate of 74 percent. These numbers indicate that the crisis could get worse if Millennials do not begin to register and participate at a rate that replaces the prior generation.
Independent voters also remain absent
The second group with low participation is independent voters. Their participation, particularly in primaries, remains low some 20 years after Arizona expanded its primary system to allow independents to select the primary ballot of either major party, and in some cases, minor parties.
While there were nearly as many independents as registered Republicans during the 2016 election, independent voter turnout was significantly lower than for either major party. Nearly 4 in 10 registered independents did not cast a ballot in the 2016 Arizona election, compared with 21.6 percent of registered Democrats and 15.8 percent of registered Republicans.
Why aren’t potential voters showing up?
One major obstacle is the fact that it is a challenge for voters to become educated on the issues facing our state and the offices that govern those issues. That is not to say that our public policymakers have failed to recognize the importance of a quality civics education.
Gov. Doug Ducey has led the charge, creating a civics examination for high school students. Additionally, 2018 legislation sponsored by state Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, awards graduating seniors who have attained “a high level of proficiency in civics” a State Seal of Civics Literacy on their diploma.
While these efforts are critical and commendable, their primary focus is on addressing future voters. Clean Elections' mission is focused on today’s voters.
Easy access to information is key to helping voters connect to issues and, in turn, improving voter participation.
It's too hard to get informed on issues
Arizona voters need a single place where they can learn how Arizona’s complicated state and local governments operate and how each office addresses the pressing issues of our state.
To help voters become educated and to combat the voter crisis, Clean Elections and Morrison Institute have launched the first comprehensive guide to Arizona government elected office. This information for voters is now easily accessible in one place for first-time, infrequent and devout voters alike.
If potential voters can form and then build upon a foundation of knowledge on Arizona issues and how those issues are addressed by our state and local governments, it is far more likely their understanding, appreciation and participation in voting would improve.
For independent voters especially, it is imperative they engage in both the primary and general elections. Otherwise, independents will experience further alienation from our democratic process.
Without action, this crisis will get worse
All potential voters need to understand exactly how elected offices affect their everyday life, whether in the form of school funding and school safety, or free markets and regulation, or transportation infrastructure and health care. The comprehensive guide to Arizona government elected offices will offer a “one stop shop” for voters.
The purpose of the Arizona Voter Crisis report is to examine the behavior of voters, identify areas where the crisis is poised to worsen and begin the dialogue to offer solutions to those problems. To further the discussion, there will be two subsequent papers:
• "Arizona Primary Elections: Primarily Forgotten," a look at often-ignored primary elections, which often determine who's elected before the general election.
• "Arizona Voter Engagement," which will list various groups’ efforts to get more people to become engaged politically and vote, along with contact information for greater involvement.
Two additional town hall-style meetings will be held this election season to increase public awareness. These projects are intended to launch a larger collective discussion and effort statewide to connect all potential voters to the importance and value of casting a ballot.
The full report of Arizona’s Voter Crisis can be found at MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu