Ken Bennett: Arizona’s Voter Turnout Rates
Historical Averages Seemingly Indicate High Turnout for 2012 General Election
Watched any TV lately? Opened your mailbox? Answered your phone? Driven to work? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely have noticed it’s election season! I’ve seen so much political advertising over the past few months I’ve started to hear ‘I approve this message’ in my sleep.
We are all aware of the endless series of political commercials, mail pieces and phone calls promoting Candidate X and criticizing Candidate Y. But what impact will these various methods of communication have on voter turnout?
The Grand Canyon State has nearly 5 million eligible voters. About 3.1 million Arizonans are registered to vote and only 28% of those registered participated in the state’s primary election in August. With such dismal turnout in the primary, what should we expect for November’s election?
History seems to indicate a significant increase from the August primary. In years where Arizonans have had the opportunity to cast their ballot for president, we see the highest rate of voter participation. Since 1974, Arizona has experienced approximately a 73% turnout rate in presidential elections and 57% in off years. In 1980, with Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the top of the ticket, turnout surged past 80% while in 2008, the Obama v. McCain race generated a 77% turnout.
While a 77% turnout rate is a significant number, it can be better and we have taken steps to improve the voting process to make it as convenient as possible. We’ve made it possible to find your polling place, track the status of your early ballot and check your registration all from most smartphones. Electronic poll books have increased efficiency and early balloting, or voting by mail, has proven to be an enormously popular initiative.
In 2008 nearly 53% of statewide votes were cast by early ballot. Just two years later the percentage rose to 61%. Now, we have about 1.5 million voters on the state’s Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL). While those numbers are impressive, they are not nearly as remarkable as the percentage of those on PEVL who actually vote. In 2008, 91% of early ballots were returned. During the midterm election of 2010, that rate decreased to 76%. With such a large number of voters on PEVL for this Presidential election we could see near record levels of participation.
Partisan voter turnout also can provide some insight as to what to look for in the general election. Four years ago 81% of registered Republicans voted in November. Democrats turned out at a rate of 73% and 69% of so-called “Independents” voted. Green and Libertarian party members voted with 84% and 76% respectively.
Over the last 100 years, Arizona has had a handful of elections that came down to one vote. Could this be the year we have another? Could you be that one vote that makes the difference?
While numbers and percentages can help us understand historical trends and patterns, each vote could be the difference between a winning candidate and a losing campaign. It’s your voice. It’s your vote. Make it count!
Ken Bennett currently serves as the Arizona Secretary of State. You can read more about Ken Bennett at: http://www.azsos.gov/info/bio.htm