One intriguing argument why potential voters aren’t going to the polls

REUTERS/Mark Leffingwell
Curtis Gans estimates that about 61 million voting eligible Americans are not registered, and that about 20 million names on the current registration lists are invalid.

This the fourth in a series of stories comparing the U.S. system of politics and elections with other democracies around the world.

Until now, this series has been mostly explored the minor mystery of why voter participation in the “world’s greatest democracy” is so low compared to the other developed democracies. Political scientists who focus on comparing democracies have mostly pointed me toward systemic differences that help explain low turnout for U.S. elections, things that are unusual about the way the United States organizes and conducts elections. They have identified several such quirks that undoubtedly cause some of our voting-age population to not vote.

But for many of those scholars, their first caution to me was not to make the rookie blame-the-victims mistake of assuming the bad turnout numbers reflect a lack of motivation among U.S. voters compared with those from other countries.

When I interviewed Curtis Gans, whom I’ve known for decades, he pushed back pretty hard against what the others were telling me, and he made an interesting case.

Gans, by the way, is a Washingtonian but played a role in Minnesota political history. Back during the Vietnam War era, Gans and Allard Lowenstein started the “Dump Johnson” movement and, after being turned down by many of the prominent anti-war figures, recruited Minnesota U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy to run for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. The McCarthy campaign played a role in ending Lyndon Johnson’s political career. Since then, Gans has specialized in studying voter turnout as the founder of the D.C.-based Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

True, but…

Yes, it’s true, Gans said, the United States puts several structural barriers in the way of higher voter turnout, as the comparativists had told me. Almost alone among the democracies of the world, U.S. states place the burden on citizens to register to vote, and then to re-register every time their address changes. (Gans, who tracks these things more closely than you can imagine, estimates that about 61 million — 61 million! — voting-eligible Americans are not registered, and that about 20 million names on the current registration lists are invalid.)

But, he noted, many states (and Minnesota is among the leaders, as one of the states that allows people to register at the polling place on Election Day) have made it easier to register. And every state is now required, under the 1993 “Motor Voter” Act, to offer citizens an opportunity to register when they apply for a driver’s license or various forms of public assistance.

Yes, it’s true that the tradition of voting only on a single Tuesday in November differs from most of the other democracies that allow more than one day and at least one non-working day to vote. And this undoubtedly leads to some citizens not participating, Gans agrees. But many states (again, Minnesota is toward the forefront) have mitigated that problem by making it easier for citizens to vote by mail or in person in advance of Election Day, without having to certify that they were unable to vote on Election Day. (Yes, Minnesota permits these.)

If those were the kinds of barriers that were preventing people from voting (and, of course, they are), then you would expect to see voter participation increasing as the various barriers were mitigated by the kinds of reforms in the paragraphs above. But instead, turnout has gone sideways over recent cycles and has not gained any significant ground on the many other democracies that have higher turnout.

Curtis Gans
U.S. State Department
Curtis Gans

In fact, Gans believes, even without those reforms, you would expect U.S. voter participation to be rising for the most basic kinds of demographic reasons. Since voter turnout first became a subject of study, certain demographic facts have been clear, and they remain clear. For example, older voters turn out in larger proportion than younger voters. Educated Americans are more likely to vote than uneducated Americans.

But rising life expectancies, plus the aging of the Baby Boomers, has created a moment in which the U.S. electorate has never been more concentrated toward the elderly side. Likewise, there’s never been a time when a larger portion of the eligible electorate had college degrees. To Gans, these demographic facts suggest that with no change in the rules and no change in motivation, pure demographics would be driving participation higher. Instead, it’s going sideways and, Gans forecasts, headed for lower.

So, to him, the only way to make that math work is to suspect that something is undermining many citizens’ motivation to vote.

“My considered judgment,” he said, “buttressed by a lot of developments in the past years and months, is that the underlying reason that turnout is not rising is not procedural, and not demographic. The underlying issue is motivation.”

In fact, if you think about the logic of Gans’ argument, the problem is not just that the United States has a long-standing problem with voter motivation, but that motivation is actually declining and declining enough over recent cycles to offset the powerful demographic factors that should be fueling an increase in voter turnout. What would explain a recent decline in voter motivation?

List of reasons

Gans’ list of reasons are not easily quantifiable or subject to easy testing, and they clearly draw on the conclusions of an observer frustrated by developments of his lifetime observing U.S. politics. But many of them certainly ring true. So for today’s installment of this series, I’ll just let Gans list some of the factors he believes are undermining the motivation to vote. He mentioned:

The parties have moved away from grassroots organizing, which used to be responsible for turning out the vote. “Now what they basically do is raise money to hand to consultants and let them define the choice for the voters,” Gans said.

In a typical, competitive statewide campaign for U.S. senator or governor, 50 to 60 percent of the funds are spent on political advertising and another 20 percent is spent on the fundraising itself, leaving only 25 or so percent for work at the grassroots level and/or for moving the candidate around the state to actually show his or her face, give speeches, answers questions, meet voters and ask for their support.

A huge portion of the campaign communications that reach the average citizen are via 30-second attack ads in the last days of the campaign that — taken as a whole — convince many Americans that the system is offering them a choice between bad and worse.

Most Americans do not feel enthusiastic about either of the major political parties, Gans believes. The Republican Party is “way to the right” of the American center. A big part of that far-right message is an anti-government message, a message that “government doesn’t function very well,” which undermines enthusiasm for civic activities such as voting. The Democrats “haven’t had a clear consensus message for a long time.” Voter motivation declines when they perceive their choice as between the lesser of two evils.

“We have an erosion of trust” in what politicians say, Gans believes, which led him into a series of presidential statements that he feels contributed to that erosion.

Starting with LBJ: “We are not about to send American boys nine or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

To Nixon: “I am not a crook.”

To Reagan: “I did not trade arms for hostages….”  “I didn’t know about any diversion of funds to the Contras.”

To Bush the first: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

To Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

To the second Bush and his assertion that Saddam Hussein’s hidden weapons of mass destruction justified a war.

Gans also sees recent trends in the media contributing to a loss of voter interest and motivation to vote. There is less coverage of politics, and fewer reporters, he said. From the heyday of network TV news, when the electorate was offered “a shared body of information,” to the age of cable and satellite TV, which you watch all day without getting any useful information, to the age of the Internet and the iPhone, which he said have “created personal communities at the expense of a general community.”

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Comments (65)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2014 - 09:14 am.

    Motivation is clearly key. I wonder if you’ve considered the impact activist (as opposed to restrained) courts have had on motivation.

    Between 1803 and 1857, the SCOTUS struck down two federal, and no state laws. Between 1994 and 2002 it struck down all or part of 32 federal laws, and innumerable state statutes.

    For me, they have no impact; I’ll never throw in the towel. I’ll always vote my conscience and encourage my friends and family to do so as well. But there are many people that have expressed a sense of futility, and it’s very difficult to argue against the reality of today’s circuit court circus.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/08/2014 - 12:30 pm.

      You overestimate the electorate.

      In an era in which news consumption continues to decline, I believe it unlikely that most of the population know anything about SCOTUS decisions beyond what can’t be avoided in a media-saturated age. Even those who are triggered by some decisions rarely take the time to actually read them much less evaluate their legitimacy or their nuances. Even many professional pundits rarely do so.

      To the extent that the electorate does care about what you call activist courts, I expect that this in fact motivates them to vote in elections which may in some way influence judicial appointments. There aren’t many: governors, senators and presidents, here in Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/08/2014 - 03:02 pm.

      No Doubt

      SCOTUS is so activist, they’ve even put Presidents into the White House, and declared legal fictions to be real persons.

      We gotta get those guys outta there.

  2. Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/08/2014 - 09:17 am.

    Murky Truths: When Attack Ads Rule

    Peter & the Wolf. And dissonance.

    Its hard to believe the ads anymore: They trend toward misleading half-truths or outright, blatant lies. That disrespects the voting public. It also diminishes the honest ads.

    When a lie holds as much sway as the truth:
    People can choose to believe whatever fiction they prefer in their mini-social network world.

    Add to that the barrage of disorienting noise, often deliberate noise.

    I’m not convinced that voting by mail is going to be a positive for the electoral process.
    People getting in line to interact with neighbors & face other voters is also important.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/08/2014 - 09:42 am.

    Why I may not be voting come November.

    I live in St. Paul, in a thoroughly DFL district. I’ve lived in this district for 30 years. I’m retired and, if not well educated, I have at least spent a good many years attempting to become educated. I can’t recall the last time a non-DFL candidate was elected in my ward or district or that the GOP mounted more than a token effort at a campaign in my community. The DFL endorsement is a de facto election for most offices on which I may be called upon to vote. Other parties: why bother?

    There are only two remotely legitimate contests in which I am eligible to vote: Franken/McFadden and Dayton/Johnson. The polls at the moment indicate neither is a real contest, though I imagine this could change. While both McFadden and Johnson make middle-of-the-road-moderate noises from time to time, the nature of their attacks on Franken and Dayton pretty clearly align them with the much further to the right Republican party mainstream, which has not convinced me that it has or has had anything of value to offer in many years. Though I don’t agree with Franken on all the issues, I’ve found him to be an acceptable senator. I’m less than happy with Dayton, but that’s more a matter of his old-school political patronage system than his left-wing politics. Frankly, he’s so ineffective as a public speaker and as a leader of even his own party that I can count on the more moderate elements to retard his progress on most fronts.

    So, where is my reason to vote? If this were a repeat of the Franken/Coleman race of 2008, I’d plan to vote as I did in 2008. I don’t see that happening. If there were a more moderate Democrat in either race, I might be more inclined to take the 10 minutes required to cast a vote. As it is, I’m content to let things play out without me, for the first time in many, many years.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/08/2014 - 12:40 pm.

      No Doubt our Republican Friends

      Are hoping a lot of other Democrats feel the same. It won’t take all that many DFLers to sit this one out for us to wake up the next day and discover that someone we NEVER would have voted for has been elected simply because this one looked like it was in the bag and we didn’t bother to vote.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 10/08/2014 - 02:14 pm.

        See 2010

        as a prime example of how valid your point is, Greg. Most of the Tea Party wave were elected on razor thin margins.
        I think another issue is the continuous cycle of political positioning for the next election. There’s absolutely no will for any politician to step out and actually work with anyone from the other side as it’s automatically graded against them by numerous groups monitoring ideological purity. If you’re elected, you tow the company line to the letter, or your labeled a quisling and culled from the herd. The result is more voter apathy from anyone that’s not engaged in politics 24/7…the entire process gets old. I’m sick to death of it myself, but I can’t let up because too many people are disengaged.

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/09/2014 - 12:24 pm.


        I don’t consider myself a Democrat, despite my voting record. I’ve never found a party whose principles were sufficiently like my own to assume the mantle. Both major parties are too willing to legislate matters of the mind and heart for me. One is too devoted to the concept of freedom as fundamentally a matter of economics and the other too willing to micro-manage. I’m too old to give up my Goldilocks politics at this point.

        As for waking up and finding the boogie man is about to take office: I take heart in the fact that we’ve survived dozens, if not thousands, of electoral disasters in my life, ranging from President Richard Nixon to Senator Norm Coleman to Senator and now Governor Mark Dayton. We’ll survive those to come, as well.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2014 - 01:26 pm.

      My family and I lived in St. Paul for many years, until we moved to finance our kids’ private school tuition. I think the only time I got any satisfaction out of local elections was Coleman’s re-election, as much because it sent Sandy Pappas packing as because Coleman was back in the driver’s seat. But I never failed to vote.

      I now live in a state where liberals are seen as strange life forms from outer space. Our local and state elections are contests between right and far right wing candidates and a token Democrat or two willing to try their luck. That also has a detrimental effect on participating, because I know that who ever is elected will be conservative or very conservative. But I’ll never miss a vote.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/09/2014 - 07:59 am.


      While I’ll go ahead and vote in November, my personal experience is much like Mr Hamilton’s. In 20+ years of voting, I’ve only voted for about four candidates that have actually won. The polls suggest that won’t change this year.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/08/2014 - 09:51 am.

    How Could It Possibly Be

    that endless grainy (i.e. that guy is sketchy and certainly not to be trusted) visuals,…

    coupled with music which implies crisis and destruction (which we all react to, viscerally, because of the movies that have used similar music),…

    with words on the screen and/or voiceovers that claim (or imply) that if you vote for my opponent it will bring the end of everything good and decent about your life,…

    perhaps even the end of the United States or the world,…

    has convinced those who rely primarily on commercial broadcast media (or can’t avoid the ads while watching other things) as their primary source of information,…

    that NEITHER candidate in any election, nor any political party can be trusted to be worthy of their vote,…

    and that the wisest choice is not to vote at all so that later, when everything comes crashing down, you can claim it’s not YOUR fault, because you didn’t vote for those in charge.

    Negative ads are a dangerous and insidious addiction rehearsed by politicians, political consultants, and media outlets, as destructive to individuals and the population as any variety of chemical dependency.

    All of them are drunk on the illusion that winning elections makes you, personally, a “winner” and is all that matters,…

    but as we see with the GOP in the US House and back when they controlled the MN legislature,…

    if you only care about winning the election, but you are incapable of giving even the slightest thought to what’s required to actually GOVERN a state or nation for the benefit of the general population, in a way which balances the interests of rich and poor alike,…

    and, in fact, you can’t bring yourself to do ANYTHING lest you offend one of your multiple, conflicting constituencies that voted for you, and are, therefore, paralyzed,…

    you’re as useless to those who elected you as “teets on a boar,” (as my farmer friends used to put it).

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/08/2014 - 09:51 am.

    There’s some face validity here,

    but this looks like a case of someone not being able to find a satisfactory explanation in his own field (political science) so he slides over into a field (psychology) where his is not an expert.

    Some more specific points:
    TV advertising (which I suspect ties up most of political spending; at least that which is legally reported) is the most expensive part of political campaigning.
    ‘Grassroots’ organizing, like going door to door and making a lot of phone calls is labor intensive; most done by volunteers (I’ve done it). It costs a lot less to set up a phone bank than to buy TV time.

    I don’t know of any hard research which says which is most cost effective — political parties play it safe and do as much of both as they can; I suspect that there’s a lot of superstitious behavior here.

    A final cynic’s point:
    One could argue that a more educated electorate would actually be LESS likely to vote, since they are (supposedly) more capable of doing the maths an realizing that very few elections are determined by one vote. In all other cases, one person’s vote has not effect on who wins the election. From the individual’s point of view voting has no payoff beyond the emotional involvement.
    The argument ‘but if everyone felt that way’ is vacuous from the point of view of the individual, unless you believe that somehow there is a causal connection between your vote and someone else’s vote.

  6. Submitted by Scott Wood on 10/08/2014 - 10:14 am.

    At the forefront?

    Minnesota is not “at the forefront” of making it easier to vote in advance of Election Day. While it’s great that an excuse is no longer needed for absentee voting, we’re the 27th state to allow that. 33 states, not including Minnesota, allow non-absentee early voting, in which one casts a normal ballot — as opposed to an enveloped absentee ballot that could potentially be rejected after the voter has left.

    When I lived in Texas, I could cast a normal vote early, at any of around two dozen places in the county, often at convenient places such as grocery stores (there was no excuse-free mail option, but there are many states that have both early voting and no-excuse absentee voting). In Minnesota, if you want to cast an absentee ballot in person, you often need to go to the county election office or city hall, regardless of how large the city is, and the hours are more limited and often erratic.

  7. Submitted by Ken Wedding on 10/08/2014 - 10:17 am.

    Not voting

    As a well-educated, older, political science educator, I’ve voted in every election since 1966. But I really don’t know if the effort was worth it. Why should I vote?

    Yeah, we got Franken, but other than rarities like that, my vote hasn’t meant much. I live in a small state with few electoral votes.I live in a Congressional district that, like 90% of them, is a safe seat. Why vote? As far as I can tell there aren’t any stealth Tea Partiers running for local offices. So, why bother?

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/11/2014 - 07:48 am.

      Might it be…

      Is your prompted answer:

      That being solid enough to vote – you bar some of the wolves & charlatans from the door?
      It keeps the crazier element convinced their investment in subverting this state would be too great; there are easier pickings in other states?

      If people didn’t vote so solidly, there just might be more Micheles in the mix.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/08/2014 - 10:33 am.

    Has anyone asked?

    I do a lot of doorknocking and when people tell me they aren’t voting, that’s usually the end of the discussion. I literally don’t have time to waste on people who are throwing away their right to vote. And for the most part, people don’t tell me whether they plan to vote. But I would suggest that if you want to know why people don’t vote it might make sense to go door to door and ask them.

  9. Submitted by Jon Lord on 10/08/2014 - 10:48 am.

    The money grab

    is something that needs fixing. Instead of raising money for one party or the other, all money raised should go into a political pot then divided equally among candidates. Also money influencing the media should be outlawed. If the media is bought and paid for then we no longer have a free society.

  10. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/08/2014 - 01:54 pm.


    It is no coincidence that when there is some high profile issue or person on the ballot there is a higher voter turnout. Eligible voters are just apathetic towards voting. It is interesting it was mentioned the right leaning, anti-government comment about the GOP. It is interesting that of the top 10 states that get the most federal money 8 are red states. The comment about LBJ is not all that simple. I have talked to a former military adviser to LBJ who was the first adviser to tell LBJ to get out of Vietnam after a tour of the country during the war. Presidents seldom listen to outside opinions.

  11. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 10/08/2014 - 11:31 am.

    Low information

    Low voter turnout is a good thing – if the voters are not tuned into current events. If the majority of the populus are only interested in sports or the Kardashians, you really wouldn’t want those people voting anyway, right?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/09/2014 - 11:04 am.

      Why not?

      The hoi polloi are as affected by the government as if they were part of the better element. They are entitled to a voice, as distasteful as that voice may be.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 10/09/2014 - 01:12 pm.

      I would, because I know about the “wisdom of crowds”

      And that the more people weigh in on something, the more likely the result will be the correct one, whether it’s guessing the weight of a bull at a fair or selecting an able representative

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/10/2014 - 01:58 pm.

        The majority weighed in before it was enacted, and continues to weigh in against Obamacare, but relief is nowhere in sight. So much for the “wisdom of the crowds”.

        “More Still Say Health Law Has Hurt Instead of Helped Them”

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/11/2014 - 08:14 am.

        Wisdom of the Crowds

        This is why the second terms of Presidents, which usually happens with larger support than the first one, have been so successful. If we worked at it, I bet we could find 100 things that polled well and turned out to be disastrous when implemented. There are lots of wonderful things about democracy but unfortunately having majority support doesn’t simply make a result correct.

  12. Submitted by kevin terrell on 10/08/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Very true

    Having just spent several months on the campaign trail meeting, greeting and talking to thousands of people, I can certainly attest to the lack of voter motivation. Even well educated, seemingly likely to be engaged citizens were unaware/uninterested/un-everything when it came to talking politics.

  13. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 10/08/2014 - 12:08 pm.

    Lack of civics education also involved

    Gans is right but there’s one more factor–maybe two. Elementary and secondary school students do not get the kind of civics education many of us oldsters had in grade and high school. We actually studied government and history, not just social studies. This, from a grandmother, who is appalled at what her descendants don’t know about government, especially my California ones.

    The second that came to mind as I started typing is that we oldsters, raised during the 1930s Depression or had parents who were, and were aware and even participants in World War II thought government was a great good, not just a necessary evil. Now we get Social Security and Medicare. In gratitude, we vote.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/08/2014 - 01:32 pm.

    Cooling the coffee

    I have read that one of the reason the senate was created was to provide a place in which the passions of the electorate would be cooled. That sort of prompts me, at least, what sense does it make for me to participate in a political system deliberately designed to thwart the will of voters?

  15. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 10/08/2014 - 01:46 pm.

    Civic Engagement

    I agree with Arvonne that the lack of civics education in schools is a big contributor to the disengagement of voters, along with the proliferation of distractions that take our attention away from the many critical issues we face as a neighborhood/community/state/country/planet.

    I remember being asked in an open-ended survey in 1969 what I thought was the biggest problem we faced as a country. My response was “alienation from government.” I never dreamed how much worse it would become over the next 45 years.

    I do phoning and door-knocking too, and have found that even the people identified as active voters are unenthusiastic, cynical, and uninformed. It is a hair-pulling, head-banging frustration and tragedy to read here the number of intelligent, informed people who think it has no effect if they refuse or don’t bother to vote. This disengagement is a deadly virus that is killing our country.

    • Submitted by Steven Bailey on 10/08/2014 - 07:42 pm.

      Our system has killed the country

      When you are trying to get intelligent former engaged voters to vote anymore may be it is time to look at yourself and not them. Gore Vidal called our system the most corrupt on the planet. We as voters don’t matter. Stop voting and stop giving legitimacy to the fraud. Our system is bought and paid for.

  16. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/08/2014 - 04:41 pm.


    I’ve been to party caucuses, where the other attendees are generally the most zealous, most committed party members (i.e., not the normal electorate), and I’ve worn out some shoe leather going door-to-door, mostly being greeted with either hostility or apathy. I do agree that we have a system that seems more than a little bit perverse in terms of citizen participation, since in an awful lot of states, laws have been written, on purpose, to make participation in the electoral process difficult or, for some people impossible. Mostly, those laws reflect a hostility to democracy in fact, though the rhetoric surrounding them would have the easily-persuaded believe that democracy is somehow being “protected” by making it unavailable to a sizable segment of the population.

    Oddly (to me), since the focus of the column and the analysis from Curtis Gans is motivation, one motivation I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the commentary up to and including the one from Steve Cross, is the motivation that works most effectively for me:

    Civic duty.

    I don’t always vote enthusiastically, and I’ve been in that situation, described by Mr. Swift and others,, wherein I lived in a district dominated by one party – usually the one I didn’t want to vote for. That situation can make it very difficult to muster much enthusiasm for even the most charismatic candidate, who articulates precisely the policy positions one feels most strongly about. For me, that doesn’t matter. Well… not very much.

    I couldn’t tell you where I learned it, but somewhere along the way I came across a line attributed to Pericles in Classical Greece: “The man who has no interest in politics has no business here.”

    Yeah, Classical Greece was amazingly sexist, and it largely functioned on the backs of slaves, but it was still the prototype for a state with a government in which citizens, limited though those numbers might have been, had a direct voice in how they were governed. It was your *duty* as a citizen to take part in that government, and while I’ve never sought elective office, and at age 70, have no desire to change that tradition now, I *do* believe it’s the duty – an old-fashioned and anachronistic term in the current era – of citizens to at least minimally take part in their own government. Voting seems to me the bare minimum.

    Were it up to me, and of course it isn’t, I’d mount a propaganda campaign similar to some of those aimed as smoking and other behaviors we’ve decided as a society are not healthy. Failing to vote is not healthy, for the vague and general term of “democracy,” but also for the very specific condition of our local, regional and national culture. Zealots, mostly from the right, but not always, depend upon otherwise-reasonable people *not* going to the polls. That’s what allows shrieking extremists to be elected to public office – by a tiny minority of those eligible to vote. Then those reasonable people who are uninterested in politics and feel it’s somehow beneath them to cultivate that interest, are shocked and dismayed when the extremist who was elected by that tiny minority behaves in office just like… an extremist.

    I know the argument about how we’re better off if the uninformed and ignorant stay home and don’t vote, and in the short term, there might even be some truth to it, but that lack of interest and participation in the long term is a corrosive acid that will dissolve the foundation of the republic just as surely as an invasion by an overwhelming and superior foreign power. So, I suffer from the very quaint and apparently quite outdated notion that people should vote because, in a democratic society, it’s their DUTY to do so.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/09/2014 - 12:57 pm.

      There is a difference

      between having an interest in politics and voting on election day. I care a good deal about what my government does on my behalf or in my name and do what I believe I can to influence those actions, in various ways. By doing so, I can focus on the issues that matter to me without simultaneously endorsing an advocate of positions I do not support or which I actively oppose. As an outlier on the political spectrum, on the other hand, I stand little chance of effecting any change in our current election politics.

      Is there a duty to vote? I’d argue that there is a duty to decide whether voting is the right thing to do in any given election. I do not, for example, cast ballots in races for which I have no information on the candidates, whether or not they are endorsed by a party. Sadly, too many do vote solely on the basis of party affiliation and/or name recognition. (Those familiar with Ramsey County politics can, I am sure, provide the names of at least two perennial candidates who are or were virtually certifiable, yet garnered substantial votes as the years rolled by. One actually won election to a very minor position and it was not on her merits.)

      Very few members of the voting public actually cast ballots in judicial races and for good reason. Very few of us have any reasonable conception of what is required to be an effective judge and even fewer have any idea whether a candidate might meet those criteria. The same might be said of most elective positions, truth be told.

      The above notwithstanding there are races in Minnesota in which I would most certainly cast a vote, if they were on my ballot, if only to be able to say that I did not vote for the [likely] winner. (AnybodybutEmmer comes to mind. Points to anyone not living in the 6th District who can name his DFL opponent.)

  17. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 10/08/2014 - 07:28 pm.

    I will not vote this November

    I am in my fifties and for the first time since being 18 I have no plans to vote. I voted for Obama in 2008 and didn’t expect much being that he really had no experience, but he couldn’t be as bad as Bush had been. Sadly he has been much worse than I ever expected. I voted for Dayton and I always liked Rybak (couldn’t vote for him since I don’t live in Minneapolis) but the awful ways they did everything possible to make sure the criminal Wilf got his stadium at all our expense still sickens me. I voted for Governor Carlson and liked him very much at the same time I supported and voted for Senator Wellstone who I also liked a lot. At that time I was involved and donating time and money to the political process. Voting has become a fraud that is used to give legitimacy to things that people don’t want but are going to happen anyway. The only voice that counts any more is that of huge money and I am no longer interested.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/08/2014 - 08:52 pm.


      As you’ll be doing nothing to affect the trajectory of any issue whatsoever, I’ll feel free to hold you personally accountable for legislation that is passed with which you do not agree, and to give you no credit for any that passes of which you approve. Never have understood the “take my ball and go home” approach to attempting change. Why would anyone value the opinion of a quitter, someone who’s determination is so lax that even the most base level of civic engagement is too much effort. Spare me your self righteous indignation and go out and do something about it.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 10/09/2014 - 09:28 am.

      Yes, Steven, huge money HAS taken over politics

      but sitting silent in the corner doesn’t amplify your voice, it only makes it easier for that same big money to continue on its march towards world domination.

      I could, and sometimes do, argue that we are no longer living in a representative democracy, but in an oligarchy. Wealthy corporations and individuals rule, and are the only ones whose interests are protected by the Roberts Court or promulgated by the legislators their money/”speech” elected.

      BUT the underlying structure of a representative democracy remains, like an appendix, and it is the ONLY thing that can, and occasionally does, thwart the monied interests or slow their march towards absolute dominion.

      Vote. Please. It is the only arena in which your voice is as loud as Chuck or Davey Koch’s.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/09/2014 - 11:08 am.

      Passivity is the enemy

      If you’re just going to grouse about the system and stay home, you are accomplishing nothing besides grousing.

      Yes, an individual vote may be a futility, and yes, politicians often–regularly–disappoint their supporters. How is staying home on Election Day and yelling at kids to get off your lawn going to change that?

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/09/2014 - 12:23 pm.

      Voting Against Big Money

      I’m not going to try and talk you into voting. If an educated person decides that there is no one out there that truly deserves their vote, then the rational thing to do is to stay home. As you note, elected officials that you supported have done some things that you absolutely don’t want your name associated with. I’ve been there. I didn’t vote for McCain back in ’08 for similar reasons.

      Let me differ from the scolds that are still urging you to vote though. There are almost certainly some third party candidates that you could vote for with a clean conscience. A Green party candidate, for instance, won’t be elected, but you’ll still get the message out that you want your preferred Big Party to clean things up if they want your support in the future.

      • Submitted by Steven Bailey on 10/09/2014 - 02:09 pm.

        The scolds don’t matter

        Before more people take the time to tell me about the process or consequences of not voting I will pass along some information. I have voted in every election since I was 18, I have worked for campaigns, I have done get out the vote and campaign door knocking, I have volunteered for phone banks, I have been in he room when members of the two parties openly discussed their involvement in fraud that cost the city over half of a billion dollars (not in MN), And I have donated generously to campaigns. My decision is that based on the results of the past 10 or more years the system is entirely broken and there is no contest that I can vote in will change that in any no matter what the outcome.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/10/2014 - 02:02 pm.

          So as the going has got tough

          You choose to quit, while others fight on. I know you are trying to paint this as some rational, logical decision borne out of all your years of distasteful experience, but it is in the end simple weakness. You quit because you feel the forces in opposition are too strong, the outcome predetermined and you don’t want to fight anymore. Fine, but don’t attempt to rationalize your decision as somehow noble.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/09/2014 - 02:22 pm.

        Speaking as one of the scolds . . .

        I agree with you that voting for a third-party candidate is better than opting out entirely.

        In elections that were thought to be close, I have often voted for the lesser of two evils, but I’ve never been happy with doing that.

  18. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/08/2014 - 10:53 pm.

    on “…erosion of trust”

    What this column PRETENDS is that politics has NOT become thoroughly corrupted by the influence of money. Indeed, it has, and many potential voters have noticed.

    When the actual votes by legislators on issues are driven by campaign contributions, as the “pay to play” logic works its way through the legislative process, what is the meaning of a single individual’s vote ?

    If you knew, or suspected, that the system was rigged, that the “fix is in”, why would you bother to vote, since your vote will not change a single d*mn thing in a corrupt system ??

    The most wonderful example locally is when the former mayor, Rybak, helped push the city into a corrupt bargain with fraudsters in a billion dollar handout. While voiding the Minneapolis taxpayers’ referendum, and while claiming that a plebescite on his role as mayor was the solution to this corruption, apparently he planned all along to leave public office.

    Can anyone here find a finer example of dissemblance and mendacity in public office ?? I invite your answers.

    So in answer to the question: why do people not vote? Eric has left out the obvious corruption in local, regional, and state government. Why would anyone vote in a rigged system??

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/09/2014 - 02:08 pm.

      Oh good grief, Steve…

      are you going to hold your breath until you turn blue over the stadium? It’s done already….and at some point it was going to get built no matter how many of us didn’t want it. At least Dayton had the cajones to face it when he knew that there was absolutely no political capital to be gained from it. I don’t want someone in office who tests the political winds before they have to make a decision, or is too afraid of a purity test from extremists in his/her party. We have a congress crammed full of those people…where has that left us? Seriously, I like your posts, but not voting lends itself to more corruption and one issue voting is even worse.
      I get asked by my out of state friends all the time…”how does Michelle Bachman get elected” easy…a district filled with one issue voters. A candidate could be to the right of Reagan, but if he/she was pro choice, they’d fill in the oval for the other person, it’s that simple. Don’t be that person. What you’re proposing doesn’t make any more sense than Republicans signing some half-assed pledge to Grover Norquist. Governance is a fluid situation as we live in an ever changing world. I want people in office that understand that they might have to make difficult choices that piss their constituents off. And their constituents need to grow up and stop whining like some kid in a Target toy aisle when mommy doesn’t buy them number nine on the list. Here’s six words all you Dems should think about when you talk about sitting home…Governor Tom Emmer, Senator Norm Coleman.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/09/2014 - 04:05 pm.

        Don’t get so riled up, man !!

        BTW, I do vote – even though it is virtually meaningless as to the result. I vote for my own reasons, which don’t include significantly influencing the outcome.

        And “you Dems” ?? I’m not a Democrat, either.

        I’m not advocating sitting home. I simply understand how disheartened the electorate becomes when corruption drives political decision-making. A good man or woman who achieves office but then becomes trapped in a system where votes and decisions are bought and paid for in a peculiar commerce which offends all ethical sensibilities.

        I grew up in Michelle Bachmann’s district, but escaped before my mind became completely warped.

        BTW also, the stadium matter is not “done already” as you say. The payments and pain will continue for 30 years or so, and the price tag for the public continues to climb, climb, climb. Example: this so-called “public” park in Downtown East which is NOT A PUBLIC SPACE AT ALL is going to be paid for by the citizens in the end, substantially for the use of the Vikings and the Viking’s lapdog, the MSFA. So no, Jason – it’s not “done already”. The outrages continue. The hosing of the public interest is not slowed one bit.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 10/09/2014 - 08:40 pm.

          Steve, with all due respect

          it IS a done deal. They’re not going to stop construction, they’re not going to tear it back down and there won’t be a do over. Your outrage is nothing but wasted energy. Certainly we can agree on the shady tactics of the NFL and the mind numbing emphasis on pro sports in this country, but the fact remains that no sitting governor was going to let the Vikings move on their watch and have a chance of getting reelected. The real ironic part of this entire scenario is that the majority of rubes that flooded the Capitol building during the funding hearings didn’t vote for Dayton and probably still wouldn’t vote for him. As I stated, I admire the guy for advancing the conversation as it was never going to go away.
          If you’re really looking to cast some blame, you should direct it at the 2006 legislature when they approved the Gopher stadium. That was their opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and insist that the two factions share a facility. Water under the bridge and it’s time to move on. I’m certainly not going to let a stadium vote turn my attention away from the big picture. One memory of going back to a republican controlled legislature with a GOP governor at the helm is enough to nip any notion of a protest vote or non vote in the bud.

  19. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/09/2014 - 05:40 am.

    voter turnout

    The Democratic Party has not had a clear concentric message? Hmmm. If you want to boil it down to three words, like “government is bad”, probably so. The democratic message has always been slightly more complicated than that. I think the democratic message is quite clear: preserve social security, take the political risks to enact a negotiated universal health care mandate, move cautiously forward to enhance human rights, including those of gays and women, hold the line on tax cuts to preserve some semblance of a safety net for the poor as well as support national infrastructure and preserve the environmental protections that were initiated in the 70’s and compliment that with support of sustainable energy that reduces climate change. That’s pretty simple and can be said in a more compact way. Those political viewpoints are not required of democrats but can be said to characterize 90% of their candidates. No clear concentric message? When I hear statement like that I know the author if full of it and just another boring, unclear, thinking political commentator. The one statement I agree with is that in putting forward the “government is bad” spin republicans can help promote the attitude that voting doesn’t make any difference. That’s a win/win situation for them as demographics are trending rapidly toward the democratic constituency.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/09/2014 - 01:52 pm.

      You forget

      You forgot the other common theme.
      Raise taxes on those doing well to pay for all of that.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/09/2014 - 04:17 pm.

        Did you mean raise their taxes – to their fair share ??

        Or do you mean just raise their taxes, period ??

        Does the wealthy paying their fair share mean paying at the same RATE as the working stiff ??

        I’d just like you to be clear on the matter of sharing the burden in an equitable way. Is the wealthy person who pays 10% tax on a million in income paying their fair share, more than, or less than their fair share when compared with the person whose income is 100k and paying 15% ? These are just arbitraty figures, but you get the idea.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/09/2014 - 07:15 pm.

          Try Again

          By the way, how do you define fair?

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/09/2014 - 09:37 pm.

            Very interesting – thanks for the link.

            I didn’t know the exact numbers, so this was informative. I cross-checked against the CBO numbers and they agree.

            There is another table at the same site that puts flesh on the vague 5 quintiles and gives the actual income each of those quintiles represent, at…

            “Fair” takes a lot of consideration and thought, and it is a value. My opinion of what would be fair in personal income taxes is probably shared by few: tax not at all below a certain threshold which amounts to the cost of living per person (true, real cost of living – at this time, maybe it would be 20k – 30k for an individual). Above that level, I’d be OK with taxing at nearly the same rates, across wide swaths of income, stripping many or most deductions out of the tax code altogether. A minor degree of progressivity would fit in here, too, at the very high end of the income scale. This would mean no poor or working poor people are suffering from income taxes, and no millionaires or billionaires are evading taxes entirely. I am pretty sure this will never become law, but you asked, so I answered.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/09/2014 - 11:19 pm.


              Actually we are roughly where you want to be, if you include cash benefits in the calculation.

              Between the earned income tax credit, child tax credits, medicare benefits, food stamps, free and reduced lunch, housing assistance, heating assistance, sliding fees for some services, pell grants, etc. Many people are getting back immediately more than they pay in.

              And if you think of payroll taxes as forced saving and insurance, instead of taxes. Many are making significantly more from the government than they are paying into it.

              Or do you think “fair” would be they pay no taxes and still get cash and benefit assistance from the government?

              • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/10/2014 - 03:19 pm.

                I take your well-made point, but I wouldn’t include…

                …cash benefits which are really outside the system of income taxation (food stamps, free lunch, etc) – even though these things obviously have to be paid with revenue arising from taxes. It’s easy to add issues into a discussion of taxation and soon it’s a swamp with a myriad of squirming, crawling things, making the issue of “fairness” nearly impossible to talk about.

                However, looking just at the taxation side for the moment, it’s possible to formulate some rules which most people would consider “fair” – e.g., the income that a person needs to survive…housing, food, transport, health care, education when young, etc…should NOT be taken by the government via its tax code. And no one should be taxed greatly in excess of others, on a rate basis, even though some variation in rate bands make sense.

                Also, no special favoritism in tax law or tax policy should be granted to a group or industry. An example of this kind of tax favoritism is in the oil depletion allowance. Its rationale: the more oil the companies produced, the less oil was available – therefore, we should give them many, many millions as compensation, as though they really are entitled to a much greater resource that exists in the natural world. Never mind the fact that that oil resource in the first place was a public asset sold for a song. The history of this has been written about extensively, showing clearly that it benefited a tiny group of oilmen (mainly Texans) at its inception, which they defended tooth and nail through their influence with Washington, bought with the proceeds. This is the kind of thing that costs the public many billions, is a private benefit granted through the tax code, and is inherently unfair. Many tax expenditures aspire to this profile – dream of becoming the next oil depletion allowance.

                You ask: pay no taxes and still get cash and benefit assistance ?? Are you your brother’s keeper ?? There is a great dispute about this. A floor in income (or its equivalent in services) for all, though controversial, might relieve us of a good deal of crime, poor health and its costs, malnutrition, wasted human potential. Who has ever added up these costs in a credible manner ?? It seems all we can know about them is that in the aggregate, they have to be huge. Maybe establishing a floor in income and services would pay rich dividends !!

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/10/2014 - 04:38 pm.

                  Minimalists Live Free

                  “rules which most people would consider “fair” – e.g., the income that a person needs to survive…housing, food, transport, health care, education when young, etc…should NOT be taken by the government via its tax code.”

                  So are you saying that to be “fair”, a family of 4 making $35,000/year would pay no taxes. (ie 0%) And that they could still receive Benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, enjoy Americas benefits, etc. And that people at higher incomes would be taxed adequately to pay for everything?

                  “And no one should be taxed greatly in excess of others, on a rate basis, even though some variation in rate bands make sense.”

                  I think we have a logic problem within the 2 statement in quotes. What am I missing here?

                  • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/10/2014 - 06:38 pm.

                    What you are missing is: no taxation below a threshold, but…

                    …your sensation of paradox also arises from what you are inserting: paid insurance programs.

                    Whether that threshold for a family of 4 is $35k or some other number, I’m suggesting a threshold should be found that covers the basic necessities of life, and below that, no income taxation (even though they probably pay payroll taxes as virtual insurance premiums). If the government takes income taxes out of that necessary amount of money, then BY DEFINITION, that family would not have the basic necessities of life, due to the taxation by their government.

                    Amongst those FORTUNATE enough to PAY TAXES – i.e., they enjoy earnings in excess of the basic necessities of life – the rates of taxation should not vary wildly.

                    Your paradox arises from ignoring the rule I’ve suggested of a threshold or floor of income below which there is no taxation and then further, conflating the insurance provisions in Medicare and Social Security in mock confusion. People pay certain taxes to receive those benefits, in general, although SSI is an example of an exception. You can get off the boat and apply for SSI straightaway, I think.

                    As to other unspecified “Benefits” and Medicaid, those are subject to eligibility criteria which have to do with the income they earn, not the taxes they pay or do not pay.

                    You needn’t worry that a scheme like this will disrupt the growing imbalance of income and wealth in the country. There is little risk of that, as the trend is in a powerful feedback loop:
                    You might be interested to see

                    …which shows “the top 1%…receiving nearly 22.5% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever”

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/13/2014 - 04:17 am.


                      No “mock confusion”. You said no taxes on lower dollars, and payroll taxes are taxes. (or so Liberals and the SCOTUS say) Personally I think of them as mandatory insurance / retirement savings, since no one is willing to change the programs to bring them into alignment with what they can afford.

                      So what you are recommending is Payroll taxes starting at $0 and Income taxes starting at some income level. What happens with sales taxes, corp taxes, death taxes, etc?

                      By the way, ~1980 was also about when Americans started to love buying foreign goods. Those simple consumer choices helped drive down the incomes of the American workers.

                    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/13/2014 - 10:50 am.

                      Mischaracterization, mock confusion, and straw men…

                      …diminish MinnPost as a forum.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/15/2014 - 12:39 am.

                      Judging intent

                      Looking for ill intent when there is none is unproductive. You said no taxes on lower incomes and I took you at your word. For what reason do you think I would intentionally mischaracterize your statement? I am curious.

                      From what I understand now. You want a system something like what we have today.
                      – Everyone pays for social security and medicare through the payroll tax.
                      – Lower income people pay no income taxes and many get money back that offsets any sales taxes they pay. (Standard deductions, special deductions and credits)

                      – On top of that the lowest income folks have have access to food stamps, housing assistance, heating assistance, subsidized health insurance, etc

                      Where am I mischaracterizing this?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/10/2014 - 07:51 am.


              This graphic shows it best.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/10/2014 - 09:17 am.

            Close, but no cigar

            The link talks only about federal income taxes. What about excise taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc.?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/10/2014 - 04:46 pm.

              Pretty Flat

              Those are pretty flat, so it won’t change the slope much. Just lay this over it.

              Or look at the Tax Foundation link

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2014 - 07:05 pm.

              All regressive

              The more money you have; the smaller the proportion of it that goes to these taxes.
              The poor spend most of their money immediately — the rich put most of it in tax shelters.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/11/2014 - 07:46 am.

                Tax Shelters

                Unless that “tax shelter” is under their mattress that money is still being spent, used, paid to employees, funds construction, etc via investments.

                I always find it interesting that people here see other peoples invested wealth as a bad thing. I agree there needs to be balance, however “tax shelters” is not a 4 letter word.

      • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/11/2014 - 07:41 am.

        Who would you propose to pay taxes?

        Can you get blood from a turnip?

        Who benefits most from the society needs to pay a share – and maybe a somewhat bigger share
        than those who cannot benefit anywhere near as well. Because they are largely still part of the same system & society.

        No one should disrespect their customers.

        Its not fun reality, but it is reality.

  20. Submitted by jason myron on 10/09/2014 - 07:21 am.


    to all of you that want to check out of the system….don’t complain about the government that you get because it’s what you deserve. If you want to whine that Obama wasn’t as effective as you wanted him to be, look in the mirror. You sat home in 2010 while the Tea Party was voted into national and state offices, most with the slimmest of margins. You’re willing to sit home and pout because a stadium got built under Dayton’s watch, ignoring all of the good things he’s done for this state, and instead open the door for his opponent who has stated he wants to “go all Scott Walker” on Minnesota? Brilliant plan…
    Yes, let’s all sit back and pine away for the good old days of Arne ( I voted for him too) who hasn’t been in office since Bush was elected, or good old Wellstone,dead for 12 years now. ( What would Wellstone say about all of you right now? You don’t want to know.)
    Get over it, and take Ray’s advice…it’s our civic duty to vote…plain and simple! Every time you don’t is slap in the face to every person living in some impoverished country, under the thumb of oppression that would give anything to have some say in how their government is run. But by all means…sit this one out, go tend to your garden, go watch American Pickers…whatever.
    I’ll say this about guys like Thomas Swift…we agree on nothing politically, but I respect him for his conviction and tenacity. He’s not about to give up on his fight which is a lot more than I can say about some of you.

  21. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/10/2014 - 01:37 pm.

    On the rare occasions when I have not liked either candidate

    I have voted third party. This is a way to make one’s disaffection visible. If you don’t vote, the powers that be just ignore you. If a large number vote third party, then the two major parties will not be able to ignore the people who don’t like either the D’s or the R’s.

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