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To Vote or Not To Vote

By Diane Wahto
Opinion | August 12, 2012

TOPEKA, Kan. - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was pleased that voter turnout in the 2012 Kansas primary election reached 23% of eligible voters. Of the 1.7 million registered voters in Kansas, 392,000 cast ballots. Obviously, most of those voters chose Koch/Brownback-backed Republican candidates over incumbents and other moderate candidates who were more interested in supporting education, the disabled, and other issues that will affect the average Kansas citizens rather than taking care of the rich through tax cuts and making sure women's access to abortion is further restricted.

Kobach said the turnout exceeded his expectations. My question is how his expectations could be lower than less than a quarter of those eligible to vote. Shouldn't he as secretary of state have higher expectations of Kansas voters?

Maybe he and I have different ideas about the vote and how important it is. People suffered and died in order for some of us to be able to vote. My grandmother couldn't vote for most of her adult life. Knowing her as I did, I doubt if she was too concerned about politics, as she was involved with raising eight kids and all that entailed--doing laundry in a wash tub, cooking meals on a wood-burning stove, cleaning house, and making it through the Great Depression and WWII with all the scarcity that brought about.

Even so, she managed to drag herself to the voting booth when it was time. For some reason, my family had a tradition of voting Republican. I suppose some of that had to do with Kansas being a Free State. After all, the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln. By the time my family got around to being politically involved, however, most Republicans were voting against the policies of Franklin Roosevelt. This despite the fact that those policies pulled the country out of the Depression.

My parents served as precinct committeeman and committeewoman for the Republican Party in my hometown of Baxter Springs, Kansas. They voted in every election, as far as I know, and after he retired, my dad served on the city council for a time.

As I was growing up, my dad and I became increasingly politically divided. I can't trace the roots of my political leanings, but I knew from an early age that I was more liberal than my parents. My dad and I would often have arguments at the dinner table about political issues. Of course, at fifteen-years old, I did not have a sophisticated view of the political scene. I did know that I would have voted for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight D. Eisenhower, a choice that not only put me at odds with my parents, but also with most of my sixth grade classmates.

It is with some satisfaction that I can report that my parents saw the light and became Democrats when the first George Bush was running for a second term.

Because I couldn't vote until I was twenty-one, I was unable to vote for John Kennedy. I listened to the Kennedy-Nixon debates on the radio, though, and I planned to vote for JFK for a second term. Sadly, that term was never to be.

In the time since I've been old enough to vote, I've missed voting in only one election. I moved and was too late to get registered to vote. My vote wouldn't have made much difference anyway, as McGovern lost big-time to Nixon.
Yet, I have never thought my vote doesn't make a difference. In the 2012 Kansas primary, I was able to vote for the better of two Democratic candidates, one for the House of Representatives and one for Senate. It was a disappointment, however, to see so many blank spaces behind offices that Democrats should have been running for in Sedgwick County. The judge races had few Democrats on the ballot and no Democrat filed to run for district attorney.

In other districts, Democrats were urged to re-register as Republicans in an attempt to swing the vote to the moderates. It was a move that failed, thanks in large part to huge mailings filled with distortions and out and out lies about the moderate Republicans' stands on issues. Some really good people got beaten thanks to this Koch-backed and funded effort.

This is not what shocked me about this primary election. Anyone who was paying attention during the lead up to this election knew the Kochs, through Americans for Prosperity, and their allies in the Kansas Chamber of Commerce were planning a blitz against moderate Republicans. What shocked me was to hear people say they weren't voting or they didn't vote, as well as they lame excuses they gave for not doing so. People seem to think their vote doesn't count. Yet, one candidate in Hutchinson, a gay man running against homophobic Jan Pauls, lost by only seven votes. That vote count may change with the provisional ballots, but when an election is that close, it's obvious that every vote counts.

Maybe it's true that most politicians have sold out. Maybe it's also true that given the juggernaut that is the Koch machine, ordinary citizens don't stand a chance at the ballot box. I don't believe that. I believe that until people stand together, inform themselves and vote for people who will be accountable to the citizens, we will all suffer from the apathy of the 77% who don't think it's necessary to be responsible for what happens in this country.


2 Comments

Voter apathy is a sad thing!

I remember, very well, my first opportunity to vote for the President of the United States. I was a first grader and I proudly marked my ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It didn't matter to me that I was the only supporter he had in that mock election. I didn't look for the label, I had heard my parents and oldest brother (a senior in H.S.) discuss economics and politics and I knew who I was voting for.
I have only missed voting in one election since I reached 21 years of age. I was too sick to make it to the poles for the Ks. Primary in 1955. I've never cast a ballot for a republican, except for local offices. I have always been personally acquainted with most local candidates and voted on the basis of personal relationship.

People who say there is no difference between party platforms have not studied history or the issues. I'm not so naive as to think all successful candidates follow the Party to the "T". In the State of Kansas, if you run as a Republican it's like being spotted 25 or 30%. It is quite true that many of the 'moderate' republicans holding office in KS are RINOs. I was sorely tempted to change my affiliation for the primary, this year. But, my conscience just wouldn't allow it. I was reminded of a story one of my neighbors told. He had switched parties for the primary and hadn't gotten around to switch back. The vehicle he was working under fell of the jack and pinned him. He figured he was a gonner. But, the thought of leaving this life as a Republican made him feel so small that he was able to just slip right out of his predicament. He got himself re-registered before he put the jack back under the vehicle.

The conservative Republicans, obviously, did a better job of motivating turn out than the moderates. We Democrats should have anticipated this and had candidates for all the slots. We could have garnered many moderate republican votes, when the general election comes around. I don't think Kansas is as solidly fundamental conservative and religious right as final election results indicate.


Ken--You and I must come from the same bolt of cloth. I got a kick out of the story of your friend who wouldn't die as a Republican. I can remember a time when being a Republican wasn't a disaster. Nancy Kassebaum is a Republican, but she did a good job for us in Washington. I too have voted for a Republican when I couldn't support the Democrat in the race. I've also voted for third-party candidates, but no more. The stakes are too high.

I agree that Kansans aren't as conservative as the primary election indicats we are. People didn't vote. Democrats didn't get candidates. Apathy prevailed. We will pay the price.


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