Gress: State elections deserve more attention
- Aug. 20, 2012
- 3 Comments
As (hopefully) virtually every University of Kansas student already knows, it’s an election season. Discussions of Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s policies, personal lives, and polling data dominate the news, and will continue to do so until the first Tuesday in November. These dialogues are valuable; however, they distract from other, equally important contests that will be decided on Election Day.
It’s easy for voters to become apathetic, as demonstrated by data on voting registration and turnout released by the United States Census. Nationally, roughly 65% of voting-age Americans are registered to vote, and 60% vote in typical presidential elections. In between, during the Congressional election cycle, that number falls to about 40%. In Kansas, those statistics seem to follow the national trends—although the percent casting votes for members of the U.S. House of Representatives has been slightly higher over the past three elections.
Why do we care more about presidential elections than who represents us in either the national or statewide Congress? Exposure to national media coverage may play a factor, as voters who primarily turn to a large network or publication may miss out on the details of their own statewide politics. It’s also possible that these national debates hash out the big questions for voters, who decide which party they support and then vote for all of its candidates, regardless of office.
If voters feel their ballot doesn’t affect the election, it’s unlikely they’ll feel a pressing need to vote. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen to frame our national political identity in terms of the contest in which the most people participate. As the Electoral College system determines who wins the presidency, the race will be decided by how swing states vote—and I haven’t seen a single article, model, or political analyst who describes Kansas as a swing state. Kansas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson won the presidency in 1964. Nate Silver, the New York Time’s polling guru, currently gives Romney a 99.8% chance of winning Kansas’s six electoral votes.
This doesn’t mean casting your ballot is just a formality. However, we should reevaluate how we approach an election season. Rather than focusing only on the most recent presidential attack ads, we should prepare ourselves for elections closer to home. To begin, voters have to know what they’ll be asked to vote for once they step inside a ballot box. The easiest way to do this is to visit www.voteks.org, a website run by the office of the Kansas Secretary of State. Once you’ve registered to vote (an online process that takes about five minutes), you’ll be able to see every district you belong to and use that information to determine upcoming election questions. If you’re not a Kansas resident, you can either register to vote in your home state or in Kansas, using your current address. Voters registering in other states should determine what the deadlines for registration as soon as possible, as they vary.
It can be difficult to find information about localized elections, but an amazing resource is www.ballotpedia.org, a Wikipedia-like website that collects information on local politics to encourage civic engagement. In-state newspapers like The Wichita Eagle or Topeka Capital-Journal also cover state politics. Candidates may also have websites, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts where they share information with prospective voters.
State primaries concluded earlier this month, and The Wichita Eagle reports that less than a quarter of registered Kansas voters participated. As the national debate grows more polarized, voters should take the time to understand the local impact of Election Day.
Gress is a sophomore majoring in political science and economics from Overland Park.
Amanda Gress is a political science major from Overland Park. Read more from Amanda Gress.