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Voter apathy reigns in Montgomery County as primary draws a mere 11.86% turnout

I have been covering elections since 1968, back when I was too young to vote but old enough to be a journalist covering the elections. Just like the soldiers old enough to ship to Vietnam but not old enough to legally vote against that war.

I’ve only missed two elections in my voting life, and as a writer I’ve covered 30 years worth of voting ups and downs. I have painstakingly worked to implant the importance of voting to my daughter, my grandchildren (two of whom are now old enough to vote), and anyone who can and should be registered to vote. That’s why I found myself upset and disturbed at the end of the day, Thursday, August 7. Primary day. A day of another kind of infamy: a day of voter apathy.

What else can you call it when a meager 11.86% of the registered voters show up to cast their vote?

I have a number of other adjectives: disgraceful, unpatriotic, disrespectful, and just plain lazy. When I first voted in New England one brisk September morning, we had one day and one day only to show up and vote. It was dicier in November, when the odds of a cold November rain or even an early blizzard could change the shape of an election by placing oversized puddles, torrential downpours, an occasional ice storm, or a small blizzard in the way, limiting how easily a voter could get to a precinct on that solitary voting day. Forty years later in Tennessee, I have the opportunity of voting at my leisure anytime in the two-week “early voting” period or voting on the “day of…” Somewhere in that 15 day window of opportunity I can find time and enough good weather to get out and vote. What are we waiting for, door to door service?

Tim Barnes (far right) with supporters on the campaign trail as early voting ends. Barnes lost his senate bid in an election with a turnout of 11.86%.

Voting is right, a privilege, an opportunity. And yes, voting as it is done now with machines and ambiguous technology has its challenges, as evidenced by the demand for a return to veriafiable (read: Paper) ballots. But anyone who dares to think one vote, their vote, doesn’t make a difference need only look at the results in District 22 on August 7. A 19-vote difference with 11.89% of the registered voters showing up. Imaging the possibilities if even 50% had turned out.

Apathy and ambivalence rule; people think they cannot make a difference, that their voice doesn’t matter, that politicians listen then do as they please. Why not, since no one, including voters who have the power, opt to challenge them?

Apathy and ambivalence rule; as long as people are too lazy, too disinterested, too inattentive to get out and vote, they will continue to get the very thing they complain about: politicians who are disinterested and inattentive to the needs of the people. Do not dare to complain about conditions — political, economic, social — in this country unless you have taken the time to cast a ballot and speak your mind as should be allowed under the ever-diminishing U.S. Constitution.

As we are sleeping in our self-centered cocoons, our civil liberties and constitutional rights eroding before our eyes, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have the power to effect change; we simply choose not to use it. Yet we are arrogant enough to complain about the aftermath of our own indifference.

My mother used to say “clean your plate. There are starving children who would love to have what you have to eat.”

Listen up, folks. There are people in the world who would love to shape their government but will never have that opportunity. The average American, it seems, would rather toss that chance away with yesterday’s trash. We get what we deserve.



  1. I do not say that the end result would have been different, only that given the closeness of the race, stronger turnout might have shifted the balance. 19 votes is not huge gap. The win/lose column shifted several times as the votes were tallied. 11.86% is a disgraceful turnout.

    The appalling part of this story is that lack of voter turnout, a collective statement of voter apathy that, given the photo finish, awards a State Senate seat for a mere 6% of the city’s vote.

    Six percent claim victory, the other near 6% suffer defeat, and the remaining 88% have no valid claim to any representation since they did not participate in the process.

  2. Bravo, Christine! I agree with you! Excellent article! We need more of that kind of passion from our journalists when it comes to our rights as citizens.

    So many before us had to fight and even died for the right to vote, that it hardly seems right for us today to act like spoiled children who are given everything they want but care nothing about the sacrifices others had to make for them.

    Our rights are being ignored, tossed aside, and even trampled on, but, like a kid with too many toys, we just don’t care.

    There’s another thing that really bothers me about this whole election thing. ELECTRONIC VOTING!!
    93 of 95 TN. counties have them!! Most people don’t even know how fundamentally wrong that is!
    But then, there’s no one to tell us.

    Did everybody just fall asleep for the last eight years? We haven’t fixed any thing! Where is the outrage? Why haven’t the people of TN. demanded paper ballots? Why aren’t the media explaining to the people of TN exactly what this means and what their rights are as citizens to challenge any numbers and demand that every vote counts?

    By the way, how can we be so sure that only 11% of the registered voters showed up? Uh…Because they told us so that’s why! But did any body bother to see if even THAT was accurate?

    Where are the citizens and the investigative journalists who, in the past, would’ve checked and re-checked the numbers, reported voting irregularities, worked side by side into the night until they got it right?

    I guess you got it right when you said, “we are sleeping in our self-centered cocoons”!
    “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Sadly, we definitely will.

    Christine, you KNOW our generation would NEVER have allowed this to happen!!

    Sure, I know, Tennessee is going to have paper ballots- yeah! by 2010!!

    Kurita just happened to be at those meetings when they voted to do nothing on this. According to the minutes of that meeting, TN. already has been given the money to buy new voting machines! (I think it’s 35 million dollars! Help America Vote Act funds.)
    However, they decided to wait awhile to see what kind of machines they are supposed to by!

    I think it was Kurita who wanted to know was the money in the bank? And, if so, was it gaining interest?
    I believe they last met in May or June of 2008 and voted to do absolutely nothing until 2009 or 2010!
    How convenient.

    Keep up the good work, Christine!
    Maybe your article and this comment may help stir some sleeping giants!

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