Florence, AL – Runoff elections will be held in 24 counties across the state Tuesday (6/29). However, Alabama's Secretary of State says she's worried about voter apathy. From our University of North Alabama bureau, Pat Sanders reports.
Nancy Worley says voter indifference is becoming a major problem that needs to be addressed not only in the state of Alabama, but nationwide. The Secretary of State, whose job it is to oversee the election process, says voter apathy is especially dire among the eighteen to twenty-five-year-old age group. She says they are voting less and less, and if current trends continue, only eight to nine percent of the population could be deciding a future election that's something she sees as a sincere threat to democracy:
Worley: I think what we have to do is encourage our young people to participate and encourage them and go to the polls and get in the habit of voting every time there is an election so that we will have a true democracy throughout our life span where all of the people are participating in running that government.
Worley says the June primary was shameful, with only 16-percent of the state's registered voters going to the polls.
Worley: It's a real shame that so many Alabamians don't take the opportunity to vote, because it is in my opinion our patriotic responsibility and patriotic duty to vote.
She says it's ironic that Americans believe in and support efforts to ensure democracy in other countries, but don't take advantage of one of the most basic rights they have right here in their own homeland:
Worley: We praise our men and women who are in the military and we support them for going overseas to Iraq and shedding their blood giving those people the right to go vote and then so many Americans don't go to the polls and vote even though we're perfectly free to do so. And, that's a real shame.
Worley says research shows that if people begin voting early in life, they will maintain the habit for a lifetime. But, she says, that is not a pattern developing in today's youth, who have a noticeable absence at the polls:
Worley: I think many of our young people are not going to the polls because they're so accustomed to making decisions electronically now, if we were voting on internet they'd probably participate, but they don't put forth the effort to go to actually go to a polling site and cast their ballots in many cases.
She says the Secretary of State's office has taken on innovative campaigns to try to get young people interested in voting:
Worley: We've joined forces with the Worldwide Wrestling Federation and their smack-down your vote program. We're looking at voter registration drives on all the college campuses. We're looking at senior government teachers in high school who teach eighteen year olds and motivate their students to register and vote.
Worley says traditional methods to persuade people to vote are still needed. By that she means churches, schools, parents and communities must get involved. Worley says the she expects voter turnout to be even lower when runoffs are held in 24 of the state's 67-counties Tuesday. She sees the steady decline of not voting as one that could have serious implications on the country's future:
Worley: I think we all hold that dear, that we have the freedom to government ourselves and we don't have a dictatorship in this country. And, if we truly believe in a democracy, then we need to exercise our right to vote, and that is in my opinion our most basic patriotic fundamental duty.
For Alabama Public Radio, I'm Pat Sanders.