The independence referendum in Scotland was a remarkable exercise in voter engagement. Nearly 85 percent of registered voters went to the polls, more than 90 percent in some places.
That got me to thinking. We do an OK job getting to the polls in November of presidential election years, but not so good other times.
Five years ago, there were important school board elections in Wake County. The results flipped the board from Democratic-controlled to Republican majority. The turnout in October 2009 was about 11 percent of registered voters in Wake County. That left the board tied. The tie was broken in a district runoff won by the Republican. So a very small percentage of the electorate put in power a new board majority that made substantial changes to the way one of the largest school systems in the nation was run. Some folks didn't like that, including many who didn't vote.
In 2012, the constitutional ban on gay marriage was on the ballot in the May primary election. The voters approved the ban. Only around 35 percent of the state's registered voters went to the polls on primary day. Some folks didn't like that outcome, including many who didn't vote.
Then there was the primary in May of this year, which featured a spirited fight for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, as well as many down-ballot races. Just under 16 percent of registered voters made it to the polls around the state. One of the contests that went to a runoff primary in July was for the Republican nomination for Wake district attorney. There were around 186,000 registered Republicans in Wake in July. Only around 9,200 of them voted in the runoff to select their nominee for arguably the most important prosecutor job in the state.
A veteran city councilman I used to cover when I was a reporter had a campaign slogan he trotted out every election: "Don't vote, don't complain." It was his message to the citizens who liked his very conservative politics: If you don't go to the polls, don't go bellyaching to me afterwards if you're unhappy with the result.