Craig Medred: So you didn't vote. So what?

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch News
OPINION: The great thing about a democracy is that people get to make choices. So why is it people who decide not to vote are constantly criticized? Maybe they did the right thing. Pictured: A satirical campaign sign for a fictional deity seen along Bootlegger Cove Drive on Wednesday, August 13, 2014. As a malevolent beast who lies dormant beneath the sea, waiting to claim domain over us all, Cthulhu as write-in candidate seems meant to make other office seekers seem more attractive. The giant mythical creature, often described as a cross between a human, an octopus and a winged serpent, was introduced by writer H.P. Lovecraft in 1926. Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News

One thing Alaskans will know by the time votes from the Aug. 19 election are fully counted is this: Most people were OK with SB 21.

How will we know this? Because whether Ballot Initiative 1 passes or fails, most people won't vote for repeal. Most people simply won't vote.

Former state Rep. Mike Doogan of Anchorage crunched the numbers from past primaries and discovered primary turnouts seldom draw more than 35 percent of registered voters, if that.

"These numbers are, by any measure, awful," he was moved to lament. "Terrible. The kind of numbers that would make Mister Rogers run the Neighborhood Trolley off the tracks. Make high school government teachers burn their books and jump out windows. Make... well, you get the picture."

The end of democracy is an all-too-common refrain when American voter turnout is the topic, but spare me.

Which amendment to the Constitution is it that says Americans are required to vote? The First? No, that's freedom of speech. The Second? No that's the right to bear arms. The Third?

We could go through the whole document, but let's not. Suffice to say, the Constitution doesn't say anyone is required to vote. Voting is a choice, like scratching your butt or picking your nose. The Founding Fathers didn't seem to be all that tied up about getting out the vote.

They were more focused on the idea that if people didn't like the way the democracy was working they should make a stink about it. That's the First Amendment.

And if that didn't work to fix things, the pack of revolutionaries who wrote the Constitution thought the people should take up arms and try to overthrow the government. Thankfully, that hasn't happened.

Why? Because most Americans, most of the time, are generally satisfied with the status quo of American democracy. Many actually notice the similarities between the candidates are far greater than the differences.

These people don't vote for a simple reason: What difference does it make?

The Joe-Mead-Dan Guy for whom Alaska Republicans will vote Tuesday is a lot like the Mark Guy the Democrats are running. They might try to sound a little radical at times, but they're all pretty moderate. Ask all the disappointed Ds who voted for Obama expecting a radical new liberal agenda only to find their guy sliding toward the center. It's what happens.

Political candidates in America, and Alaska, run to the center in order to get elected or re-elected no matter the point from which they start their political careers. This is not a bad thing. Most Americans seem generally happy with the idea.

It is what makes it easy for many to avoid the ballot box and go fishing instead, or hunting, or hiking, or just stay anchored in front of the TV watching Alaska reality shows full of Joe Bobs.

The changing of the political guard doesn't make a great difference to these people, as long as the status quo remains acceptable. If you want to do something to get them to vote, you have to threaten their status quo.

What do you think the turnout in Alaska would be if there was a proposition on the ballot calling for the elimination of the annual Permanent Fund Dividend payout? You know, the check all Alaskans now think they're entitled to get in the mail every year, or direct deposited to their bank account, just for living in America's darkest, sometimes coldest state.

Seventy percent turnout? Eighty percent? Ninety?

If, of course, anyone could get an initiative like that on the ballot. Who'd sign the petitions to put the question before voters? Ballot Measure 1 advocates were lucky in this regard. Most Alaskans don't care much one way or the other whether the state taxes Big Oil to the tune of billions of dollars or tens of billions of dollars as long as Alaskans themselves don't have to pay a state income tax.

It was easy for anyone to sign the Prop. 1 petition as a means of protection from the lurkers with the clipboards outside the malls and popular Anchorage stores. Sign the damn thing, be rid of it, and from then on beg off with, "Oh thanks, I already signed it." Thus the initiative made the ballot, and so Alaskans get to vote on oil taxes.


Did anyone truly study the oil tax issue? It is complicated, extremely complicated. Studying the issue could be dangerous. It is enough to make the head of a conscientious, concerned and responsible voter explode.

But how many such voters are out there?

Most people vote their gut, not their head. They'll vote Prop. 1 on whether they hate Big Oil and want to tax it to its knees, or believe their job might be in jeopardy if Big Oil loses its taxes break.
It won't be much different when it comes to the Republican's Mead-Dan-Joe Guy, either. People will vote for Joe because, well, Mead has been around Alaska politics too long and Dan once worked for the State Department. Or for Mead because he's been in Alaska the longest and the other two are just carpet-bagging. Or for Dan because Joe sometimes seems a little crazy and Mead flip-flops around on most everything more than a salmon on the beach.

This is the reality of how many people vote. Not all, but a lot.

And there's no reason to believe that if more people went to the polls there would be an increase in the number of well-educated voters who study the issues and the candidates. It would likely be just the opposite.

All of which makes it pretty hard for a rational observer of politics to get very concerned about low voter turnout, especially when you consider there have been a lot of failed democracies with high voter turnout.

Turn out in the German federal election of 1933 was 88.74 percent. That election marked the end of German democracy and the rise of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. This would in turn lead to a global war that killed more than 60 million people on six continents.

So much for turnout.