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Who cares about democracy? Apparently more than 4 million Michigan voters don't

Jack Lessenberry

The election is over, and I am about to turn from worrying about who will be elected to worrying about what they will do. But there’s something very troubling about what happened Tuesday that has nothing to do with who won.

Both parties and a scad of special interest groups spent a vast amount of money on this election, trying to get people out to vote for their candidates – or against candidates they didn’t like.

Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson calibrated his whole strategy on turnout, on getting the right people out to vote. But it didn’t work. His entire strategy was a tremendous flop. But the problem wasn’t just that.

Increasingly, people seem to have given up on politics and voting as a way to get things done. Four years ago, there was great concern because more than half a million fewer voters showed up than four years before. Political experts thought they were mainly disillusioned Democrats unhappy with the party’s candidate for governor that year, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Everybody thought a lot more people would vote this year. Democratic Chair Johnson told me he was counting on 3.5 to 3.7 million voters showing up.

The party mailed nearly a million absentee ballot applications to Democrats who had failed to vote the time before. Two days ago, he was confident this strategy had been a success. It wasn’t.

Fewer people voted this year than four years ago.

The bottom line is that they didn’t think bothering to vote was worth their while. Half a century ago, people struggled and died to give black people the right to vote in all parts of this country.

This week the vast majority of registered Michigan voters of all ages and flavors didn’t care.

On Election Day, 1.6 million of us voted for Rick Snyder, and a little less than 1.5 million for Mark Schauer. A few thousand voted for various minor candidates. But nearly 4.3 million registered Michigan voters didn’t bother to show up at all.

They did not care enough to vote. These people must work, by and large. They go to churches, they shop, they do things they think make a difference in their lives.

But voting clearly isn’t that important to them. We just had a referendum on a governor who made massive changes, and most of us didn’t care enough to register an opinion, especially if it meant standing in line. Voting is now something only a minority do on a regular basis.

You have to wonder whether taking part in democracy is becoming sort of an arcane hobby that only a few will pursue, like skeet shooting or collecting coins.

We thought, as recently as six years ago, that we could change things for the better by changing leaders and policies. Today, we are more interested in choosing among cable TV providers.

That might make some sense if we were all happy and satisfied with the way things are going, but we clearly aren’t, and most of us seem to have given up on trying to change it.

Which may be the most scary thing of all.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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