Both sides energized ahead of election

Iowa voters started going to the polls this week in the 2018 midterm general election — Monday was the first day for early voting.

And indications suggest the turnout may be the highest offyear election percentage turnout in many years.

It’s about time.

Offyear elections are generally disappointing in terms of the number of voters who show up. (An offyear election is one in which presidential candidates are not on the ballot. They occur in even-numbered years that are not divisible by four, like 2018.)

Greene County is no exception. 

In November 2014, only 55 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for anyone. 

In November 2010, the figure was 55 percent. November 2006 tallied just 50 percent. In November 2002, it was 57 percent.

You get the picture. Bottom line: on average, about half of Greene County adults let the other half be among the “deciders” on who will govern them.

Offyear elections don’t have presidential hopefuls on the ballot. On the other hand, state elected officials in Iowa, like the governor, attorney general and state auditor, are not on the ballot in presidential election years — they show up only in offyears, like this year.

And in offyears there are always all candidates for the Iowa House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives, who seek election every two years, along with various county office hopefuls, half of the Iowa Senate seats, and some judges standing for periodic approval by the voters, and sometimes referendums on specific issues.

(U.S. Senate seats are up for election every six years, which means each one alternates from a presidential year to an offyear. Iowa has no U.S. Senate seat up for election this year.)

But back to the point of this column: why is 2018 likely to see a higher turnout of voters than most offyear elections?

Several reasons.

First, activists in both political parties seem more energized than usual, according to many polls around the country. 

Greene County Republicans have been well organized for a number of years, performing well with their voter turnout efforts. Many of their candidates are incumbents, always an advantage in an election.

And unlike recent years, Greene County Democratic activists are making a concerted effort to register favorable voters and campaign for their candidates. Their door-to-door volunteers and yard signs are more evident this fall than for many years.

Second, attendance at political events is up. 

An example: Thursday of last week saw a panel discussion at Greene County Elementary School among the three candidates for the Iowa House from this legislative district.

Turnout totaled about 60. That’s a big number for such a meeting in this county. 

The candidates answered questions from the audience for about 1½ hours, and the three were uniformly respectful, thoughtful and nuanced. I moderated the session, and it was an impressive event. I’d like to think that, unlike the Washington scene, it showed a maturity of political affairs at our local level.

The candidates for those and other local offices are in the process of appearing at other public venues. I’ve seen some of those, and they have also been impressive. And audience questions have been thoughtful and timely, giving evidence that voters indeed are focused on the election.

Third, polls indicate that a number of high-profile races could be very close, with relatively narrow margins deciding who wins. That’s true for the governor’s race, several Iowa congressional races and maybe some local races as well. Tight races have a way of turning out more voters.

Fourth, national politics has energized Americans to a degree not often seen in an offyear. 

President Trump generates strong feelings, both among his supporters and among his opponents, and many pundits look on this year’s election as an indication of how his leadership is viewed even though his name doesn’t appear on the ballot.

The U.S. Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and this month’s confirmation of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh briskly stirred the political pot, since the court now has a solid conservative majority, to the relief of many Americans and the despair of many others.

Actions by the Republican-controlled Congress over the past few years have similarly pleased or angered millions of U.S. citizens, many of whom had not previously been politically aware.

At any rate, it looks to me like an offyear election that will be decided by more participating voters than usual. 

Regardless of the outcomes, the higher the turnout, the more legitimacy for the winners. 

That’s a good thing. 

If you want to be part of the action, you have up to and including Tuesday, Nov. 6, to do so. 

That was pretty much the idea of America in the first place.

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