Kentucky's primary election is this Tuesday and if voter participation in 2015 is any indication, the turnout will be in the neighborhood of a dismal 12 percent.
Low turnout is partly because Kentucky is one of a handful of states that elects its governor and constitutional officers in odd numbered years.
Fewer races means less campaign advertising. Less advertising means less buzz around the workplace water cooler and the local coffee shops. This apparently translates into a lethargic, disinterested electorate. By the way, offices on the ballot this year include: governor/lt. governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and commissioner of agriculture. Altogether, there are 38 candidates vying for these offices.
Elections, regardless of the number of offices on the ballot or weariness of the voters, are the civic stitches that bind this republic together and participation from registered voters in both parties is crucial. Citizenship is a discipline that may inconvenience us at times (not just waiting in line to vote, the challenging political conversations, or funny looks from neighbors after you've placed a yard sign opposite their candidate) but the inconvenience is a small price to pay considering where inaction and apathy lead to.
Recent news items from around the globe should bring into focus the great gift we have in freedom and free elections. Food and medicine shortages in Venezuela; Migrant caravans fleeing gang violence in Central America; China's religious oppression and subjugation of a million Uyghurs; Turkish and Egyptian leaders locking up political dissidents; Sudan's president killing political protestors—just a few jarring examples of government's heavy-handed oppression.
What more do we need to compel vigorous civic involvement? How about good candidates?
I've interviewed several of the top candidates on the ballot. One candidate for secretary of state shared an interesting story of his service in the U.S. Navy while stationed on the USS New York which was deployed in 2012. The New York was made from the steel beams salvaged from the rubble of the demolished World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks in 2001. As this officer stood on the New York's deck in the Straights of Hormuz an Iranian frigate passed by, providing a remarkable contrast between the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism and our resiliency and freedom the New York represented.
It is not trite or tiresome, as some would have us think, that men and women have sacrificed for our right to vote. Nor is it an overstatement that our nation is a beacon of freedom to the oppressed from around the world. Our freedom was bought at a high price and this experiment in self-government, even at the state level, must be tested every election.
Interestingly, for those paying attention to the election, 55 percent of Kentucky voters aren't sure who they will vote for. This is according to a recent Cygnal poll conducted May 10-12.
If you're not sure where the candidates stand, there's still time to find out. Several voter guides can be found online, including my organization’s. Educate yourself about the candidates. Carve time out of your schedule on Tuesday. The polls are open between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prove the low voter turnout projections wrong. There's too much at stake to sit this one out.
Richard Nelson is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.