Stocker: The importance of voting in primaries


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

Voter turnout in the U.S. is notoriously low. In the 2012 presidential election, only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Worse yet, only 50 percent of youth voters – individuals aged 18 to 29 – turned out to vote. During the 2014 midterm elections, when voter turnout rates declined across the electorate, the youth voting rate plummeted to less than a quarter of eligible voters.

The 2016 general election is still 10 months away. While I certainly encourage every Northwestern student with American citizenship to exercise his or her right to vote in November, elections of equal, if not greater, significance are rapidly approaching: the Democratic and Republican primaries, which run from February through June. The primaries are an often-overlooked part of the American electoral system. In 2012, the average voter turnout rate across states that held primariesas opposed to caucuses, like Iowawas a dismal 17.3 percent.

Although the focus of 2012 was the race for the Republican nomination for president, both parties were having primaries for Senate, House, gubernatorial and various other state and local candidates.

If President Obama’s past seven years in office have taught us anything, it should be that the President is not all-powerful. The legislative branch of the federal government matters, as do state and local offices. Primaries for those offices matter more than we think.

According to Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, 242 House districts are considered “landslide districts,” meaning that they will consistently vote for one party over the other. In a safe district, the primary is effectively the general election. With such a low turnout during the primaries, however, a small sliver of the dominant party’s electorate selects the representative, fueling partisanship and polarization by forcing candidates to take more radical, liberal or conservative positions, as candidates must focus on appealing to primary voters, rather than the general electorate.

Per the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government are reserved for state and local governments. State governments regulate access to abortions, guns and marijuana. State officials are, in fact, considerably more important than their relative absence from media coverage may suggest.

It is therefore all the more important that NU students vote in their states’ primaries. Those hailing from early primary and caucus states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — as well as the “Super Tuesday” states, will play an integral part in selecting their respective parties’ nominees for president. The rest of us must not despair at the inequity of the primary election schedule. Residents of late-voting states with large populations, such as New York and California, should keep in mind the importance of their elected state and local officials, as well as their House district.

Voting is as much a responsibility as it is a right. As the electorate has expanded over the past two centuries, a greater portion of the U.S. population has gained the right to vote. It is our responsibility to our predecessors, those who fought to establish a democracy, and the subsequent activists, who worked and struggled to grant minorities and women the right to vote, to exercise the power vested in us by the Constitution.

Part of that responsibility is going into the polls on Election Day informed. Learn about candidates’ positions on all of the issues, and try to avoid over-simplistic campaign slogans and media firestorms.

In the coming weeks and months, I urge all NU students eligible to vote to register if they have not already, and to research candidates, their positions and the implications of their policies. It is our right and responsibility, as American citizens and as NU students, to use the power we can wield as informed voters throughout the electoral process, including party primaries.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.