By NIKI AND KELLY TSHIBAKA
Thomas Jefferson observed that ours is not a “government by the majority,” but rather a government by the “majority who participate.” The outcomes of our elections, and our nation’s future, are determined as much by those who do not vote as they are by those who do.
Our vote is our voice, a regular reminder to elected officials that they temporarily steward – they do not permanently own – the powers they wield. Their authority to govern us is conditional and based solely on our consent, as expressed through our vote.
Perhaps that is why the late Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, believed the most important political office any of us will ever hold is that of private citizen.
He further warned that under our republican form of government, the duties of that office, such as our right (and corresponding duty) to vote, could not be neglected without causing “serious injury to the public.”
Similarly, Plato warned, rather indelicately, that among the injuries private citizens suffer when they do not fulfill the duties of their office is that they will “end up being governed by [their] inferiors.”
The late drama critic and co-founder of The American Spectator, George Jean Nathan, made a similar observation, noting that “[b]ad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
It therefore was particularly alarming that the November 2022 election resulted in the lowest recorded voter turnout rate in our state’s history, while the country experienced the second-highest midterm voter turnout rate the Census Bureau has recorded in four decades. As the voices of our sister states’ citizens thundered at the polls, the voices of Alaska’s citizenry were barely a whisper.
Recognizing that democracies decline and tyrannies transcend when the public does not vote, Preserve Democracy explored why our state experienced such a precipitous drop in voting last year. Was it because we no longer trusted our politicians, did we forget to vote en masse, or was it something else?
In an effort to unearth what happened, Preserve Democracy conducted a statewide poll through Cygnal, which the New York Times, among others, has recognized for the accuracy of its polling. The results of the poll were informative.
The following were the most common voluntary and involuntary reasons Alaskans gave for not voting in 2022.
Most common involuntary reasons for not voting were:
- Out of town: 26.5%
- Sick or disabled: 12.8%
Most common voluntary reasons for not voting:
- Lack of trust in the integrity of elections: 13.0%
- Concern about the new ranked-choice voting (RCV) system: 6.3%.
An approximately equal percentage of Republicans (15%) and Democrats (16%) said they did not vote because of concern regarding the new RCV system, as well as 3% of Independent/Unaffiliated voters. Women voters, older voters, and voters who are people of color said they were less likely to vote because of RCV.
In addition, a majority of the respondents (51%) had a negative view of RCV, while 29% had a positive view of it. When asked how they would vote today regarding 2020’s Ballot Measure 2, which instituted RCV, a majority of the respondents said they would vote to keep traditional voting in place (older voters and Alaska-Native voters were more likely to vote to reject RCV).
Finally, 4 in 10 voters believed RCV gives an unfair advantage to one party over another, including 75% of Republicans, 15% of Democrats, and 36% of Independent/Unaffiliated respondents.
Readers will reach different conclusions regarding the results of the poll, but our main takeaway is that the poll’s data indicates there is great reason for hope with respect to future elections in Alaska.
Consider that almost 40% of the individuals who did not vote indicated they were either out of town, sick, or disabled, which is a challenge that can be addressed going forward by ensuring voters are better informed on how to request absentee ballots, and by improving our outreach efforts to remind them to return their absentee ballots before the established deadlines.
Such a coordinated effort could substantially increase future voter turnout rates; preserve the vigor and vitality of our republic; raise Alaskans’ voices from a whisper to a roar; and safeguard the office of private citizen, Alaska’ highest and most powerful political office.
We encourage our fellow Alaskans to stand together by working to increase voter turnout. In the words attributed to Benjamin Franklin, we still have a “Republic, if you can keep it.”
Niki Tshibaka is a former federal civil rights attorney and government executive. Kelly Tshibaka is the founder of Preserve Democracy and former U.S. Senate candidate for the State of Alaska. They have five amazing children, one of whom voted for the first time in November 2022.