With local elections recently concluded and presidential primaries and the general election in the near future, voter turnout continues to be a concern for many citizens. Only 18 percent of Knoxville’s population voted in the recent city elections, according to the Knoxville Election Commission.
“There is great interest in politics today but less involvement,” said U.S. Representative John Duncan Jr. “People need to isolate themselves from in front of the [TV] screen.”
Many experts attribute this problem to polarization within the political parties.
“I think the democrats are being held hostage too much by the far left and the republicans by the far right,” said Cliff Rodgers, Administrator of Elections for Knox County. “When you let the extremist of both parties have too much power they drive everyone against each other for no reason and it seems to preclude everyone from getting involved.”
Fears have also risen among voters as to the effectiveness of elected officials once in office. Instead of being focused on issues, some voters are concerned that politicians aren’t necessarily worried with fixing issues, but instead they are focused on getting re-elected.
“American politics have become too polarized because most politicians have become more concerned with the next election and scoring political points than they are about addressing the problems they were sent to Washington to solve,” said Bobby Patton, University of Tennessee student and of the College Democrats.
These concerns may not address the problem with low voter turnout to local elections, however. Concerns for apathy in local elections may arise from concerns in the responsibilities and processes of local government functions.
“People just don’t seem to care much about local politics. My own theory is that they think local politics is boring,” said Anthony Nownes, University of Tennessee Political Science Professor. “Local governments deal with things that are kind of dull, like garbage collection, and sewers, and zoning. These kinds of things just do not get people fired up about politics, whereas things like gay rights, guns, and abortion do.”
Voter apathy seems to be particularly prevalent in the 18-25 age group where turnout is at its lowest.
“Many people in our age group are much more concerned about going to the next party or catching up on their favorite reality show that they rarely pay any attention to politics,” claimed Patton. “It also does not help that politicians rarely cater to the interests of this age group.”
A lack of efficiency in the system may also serve as a turn off for many young voters.
It may be difficult for people attending universities away from their towns to gain access to the polls.
“Many of them do not really live here per se, so they cannot or will not make the effort to vote in local elections because it is just too much work for so what they perceive to be so little return,” said Nownes.
Various solutions may exist in order to help encourage voting from this age group, however.
Increasing accessibility to the polls may be a popular option not only for students, but also for other citizens.
“If they could somehow could create some kind of secure, viable, easy online voting system I know I would be more likely to vote,” said Cody Crockett, University of Tennessee junior. “Right now voting just seems to be too much of an out of the way hassle, but we all spend a lot of time online anyway so make it easy for us all on something we use anyway and we would probably would be more likely to hop on and vote.”
Crockett would also favor a complete overhaul to the American voting system.
“It seems like democrats in traditional red states, and republicans in blue states for that matter, may be deterred from voting in their states’ elections,” said Crockett. “They claim that every vote matters, but the Electoral College doesn’t seem to reflect that. If they want to make votes matter and encourage people to vote they should switch to a direct election system.”
Education on the part of the media may be another option to help solve the problem. Nownes thinks that the solution is to have media focus more on the issues rather than the horse race of who is ahead and who is behind.
Generally, voter turnout for national elections is higher than that of local elections. Tennessee will hold its presidential primary elections on March 6, 2012. Directions to the nearest voter registration office from the University of Tennessee are located below.