More Iowans are voting

The Hawkeye State is ahead of the national statistics

More Iowans voted in this year’s midterm election than did so four years ago in 2014.

That was also the pattern nationally. The New York Times estimated that 114 million Americans voted in this year’s midterm election. That’s up from 83 million in 2014.

According to unofficial election returns, just a few more than 1.3 million Hawkeye State citizens cast ballots in the election just concluded. That’s about 65 percent of the 2 million Iowans who were registered to vote and could have had a say in the election results. Since some people who are eligible to vote don’t choose to register the percentage of potential voters who cast ballots is lower.

Nationally, according the an estimate of the Pew Charitable Trusts, about one in five Americans don’t register to vote despite aggressive campaigns by a wide assortment of groups to get them on the voter rolls.

Even though the percentage of Iowans who choose to participate in the democratic process is disappointing, our state has a far better record than the nation as a whole. According the website FairVote, in the 2016 presidential election 60.1 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote. The percentage in the 2014 midyear election was about 36.7 percent. The pattern during the last several midyear elections has been somewhat better with slightly more than 40 percent of eligible voters participating.

Iowans can take pride in the fact that our state ranked No. 6 in the nation in 2016 in the percentage of eligible voters who voted and No. 7 in the nation in 2014.

It is unfortunate that so many people don’t vote. Research by political scientists has found that some of those who choose not to do so justify their choice by claiming that their vote won’t really matter because so many votes are cast.

In that regard, it may be useful to reflect briefly on the election that just concluded. In Iowa’s race for governor, the winner prevailed by about 39,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast. In the congressional race in the 3rd District only about 5,000 votes separated the winner and loser. Here in the 4th District, U.S. Rep. Steve King prevailed by the narrowest margin he has ever experienced. In the Iowa House of Representatives contest in the District 9, a few hundred votes made the difference. Countless similar examples exist all across the state and nation.

It is clear that it wouldn’t have taken many of the 700,000 registered Iowa voters who didn’t participate in this election to have written a different election-night stories. Over time, such nonparticipation undermines the legitimacy of our governmental system. It becomes hard to claim that officeholders reflect the will of the public when so many people take no role in their selection.

Some headway was made this year in getting more Iowans to vote. That’s good, but the level of participation is far below what it should be. Our democratic system won’t be truly healthy until a much larger percentage of citizens choose to express their preferences at the polls.