John Ryder, Politics
The Commercial Appeal
Who cares? Who votes?
Think of voter turnout as a funnel: the volume gets smaller and smaller as you move down the election cycle.
According to the latest Census Estimates, Shelby County has about 936,961 people. About 25 percent, or 234,240, of those are under 18, and therefore, not eligible to vote. That gives you 702,721 people of voting age.
Only citizens can vote, so deduct the non-citizens. The census bureau estimates the foreign-born population of Shelby County to be about 6 percent. Some of the foreign-born are citizens, so let’s estimate the non-citizen population to be 5 percent or 46,848.
Deduct those who have lost their right to vote because they have been convicted of a felony, perhaps another 7,000. That leaves about 648,000 eligible voters.
Of that number, 551,506 are registered to vote, according to the Shelby County Election Commission. That gives a registration rate of almost 85 percent. Of those registered, 500,384 are “active”, meaning they have voted in at least one election in the last several election cycles.
Of those half a million eligible voters, 340,078 participated in the 2016 Presidential election; about 68 percent. In the 2014 mid-term election, the November turnout was 191,721, about 38 percent.
In the county General Election, which is also the time for the state and federal primaries, in August of 2014, the highest total vote was recorded in the race for district attorney general between Amy Weirich and Joe Brown. That total was 144,746 voters, about 28 percent of the registered voters.
In May of 2014, when the county political parties selected their nominees for August, the highest vote total was in the mayor’s race. The totals were 17,419 votes in the Republican primary and 38,445 in the Democratic primary. That’s a total of 55,846, or just over 11 percent of the registered voters.
This means that in May and August, the voters who turn out are likely to be more partisan than the voters who turn out in November.
Who cares who votes? Obviously, the candidates care. They parse these numbers trying to figure out how many votes it will take to win and who those voters will be. Campaigns approach voters in two ways.
First, they search out those habitual voters whose participation can be counted on. Second, they try to motivate the less committed voters to show up — at least this time. That is the purpose of all those TV ads and mailers that are raining down upon you at this point in the campaign.
Why don’t people vote? Not because they aren’t registered: 85% of eligible voters are registered. Not because it is hard to vote: there are two weeks of early voting and 12 hours of Election Day voting.
It’s a question of motivation. Is there a candidate they want to vote for or against? A cause they support? Will their vote make a difference in the outcome of the race? Will the outcome of the race make a difference in their lives?
Early voting has begun for the May 1 county primaries. If you care, vote.