Increasing Voter Turnout in Primary Elections

Here are some disturbing numbers from an article by Phil Keisling, Stephanie Hawke and Taylor Woods titled Can Vote by Mail Reduce Partisan Extremism? in the current edition of the Washington Monthly.

* In the 2012 primary, registered voter turnout was 18%.

* 2012 primary voters were thirteen years older than general election voters in 2012.

Beyond the presidential race, this has an even more dramatic impact on down-ballot races.

For 90 percent of the nation’s 435 congressional and 7,383 state legislative seats, the single most important election for politicians no longer happens in November. Far more important are the party primary elections—typically held between March and September—in which voters choose official party nominees for these and other partisan offices (like governor and U.S. senator). Win the dominant party primary, and the November contest is just a formality.

The authors make the case that the way to get more and younger voters to participate in these important primary elections is to institute universal vote by mail (UVBM).

Today’s micro-turnout primaries increasingly have become electoral killing fields for candidates (including longtime incumbents) who display an insufficient ardor for a take-no-prisoners approach to lawmaking. While higher turnout in UVBM primaries certainly can’t guarantee success for less hyperpartisan and more consensus-seeking candidates, why not encourage a lot more voters to make those decisions?

If you are as appalled as I am that 18% of registered voters are regularly making the call on who does/doesn’t get elected to these offices, you’ll want to read the case they make.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.