Quick, name the biggest, most powerful political party in the United States.
It’s not Republicans or Democrats. Or Independents or Unaffiliateds.
It’s the Nonvoters Party.
In the last presidential election, 19.8 percent of voting-age adults voted for Hillary Clinton, 19.5 percent voted for Donald Trump and 29.9 percent didn’t vote, according to the U.S. Election Project. That’s right: More people didn’t vote in 2016 than voted for either presidential candidate.
Only eight states and Washington, D.C., had high enough voter turnouts in the 2016 election where one of the actual candidates won more votes than people who did not bother to vote. In other words, the biggest winner in 42 states was the Nonvoters Party.
The problem is, democracy is an employee-owned business. If you join the Nonvoters Party, you can’t really complain when the people who did vote decide to raise your taxes, or change your energy sources, or ignore the traffic on your commute, all things that will be voted on this year in Colorado. The Nonvoters Party is like a case of voluntary laryngitis — you lose your voice, by your choice.
According to Pew Research Center, the average nonvoter is typically young, has a low socio-economic background and is poorly educated.
A majority of millennials aren’t expected to vote at all this election. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University in Massachusetts reported that youth turnout in Colorado usually comes in at just under 30 percent.
Why is the Nonvoters Party so powerful? By not participating, these nonvoters cede more say-so over all our lives to the demographic groups that tend to vote more, making them more powerful than they really are. That means older voters have more power than they should over younger ones, rich voters have more power than poor voters, and better educated voters have more power than less educated ones. The country that votes is a different country demographically than America. It doesn’t represent its interests as well as it could.
Race plays a role in the Nonvoters Party, too. While half of the nonvoters were white, 74 percent of voters were.
Nonwhites without a college education were 40 percent of the nonvoter pool and only 1 in 5 actual voters.
So what exactly motivates a person to join the Nonvoters Party and give up so much personal power?
Ellen Shearer, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, wrote a book called “Nonvoters: America’s No-Shows.” She categorized nonvoters into 10 types:
Unpluggeds, Irritables, Don’t Knows, Alienateds, Pessimists, Too Busys, Strugglers, Tuned Outs, Active Faithfuls, and Doers.
According to a story done by Lars Gesing of the CU News Corps, when Shearer first started classifying nonvoters in 1996, the largest group was Doers. “These are people who were sure their vote would count if only they voted,” she told Gesing. “What we found in 2012 was a different typology for the largest group of those who didn’t vote, and that is people who don’t believe their vote would count.”
The exasperating state of politics in Washington is making people think it’s not worth bothering.
Here’s the good news: Colorado was one of those states where an actual candidate did win more votes than there are nonvoters in 2016.
Because of its mail-in ballot system, and because the state has made it so easy for people to register to vote, 87 percent of voters in Colorado are registered to vote, which is the highest percentage of any state and an all-time high for Colorado. For some reason — maybe it’s the mountain air — we’re less cynical about politics out here.
In 2016, 71.9 percent of the state’s voting-eligible population, or about 2.7 million people, cast a ballot, according to the U.S. Election Project, the fourth highest rate in the country.
But this year, early-voting numbers are down in Colorado based on figures released by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office last week. They are down not just from the presidential election in 2016, but from 2014, the last midterm election.
As of Thursday, 367,927 Coloradans had voted, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. At this point in the 2014 midterms, 435,000 Coloradans had voted.
Some people think that’s because the ballot is the longest ballot on record, with 13 statewide ballot questions and a governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, members of Congress, state legislators and county officials to pick. Some cities in the area have local elections, too.
As a proud, card-carrying member of the Voter Party, I’m here to tell you that the long ballot just means there are more opportunities for you to exercise your awesome power.
We’ve got 10 days to go.
In the coming week, wouldn’t it be something if we once again rallied Colorado to turn out in record numbers, perhaps capturing the title of Highest Voter Turnout in the country, showing the world how a model of democracy can and should still work?
We all hear a lot of talk in the news and back in Washington about our rotten politics, its tribal fury and hysterical pitch.
Maybe, just maybe, the way we do things in Colorado can be the antidote.