Did you vote?
Consider this: Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election because millions of voters who went to the polls to elect Barrack Obama in 2008 and 2012 did not go to the polls to vote in 2016.
When people don’t vote, they leave important decisions for the people who do vote to decide.
More people voted for some form of marijuana legalization in eight of the nine states where such a proposal was on the ballot. The exception was Arizona, where legalization lost with 48 percent of voters in favor and 52 percent of voters opposed. Note the details of that tally, and the words “of voters.” Arizona has 4,738,332 eligible voters but the total ballots counted in this year’s Arizona election was 2,670,000. In other words, only 56.3 percent of the voters in Arizona went to the polls to vote this year.
Nationally, voters 18 to 29 made up 19 percent of voters in the 2016 election. Per the United States Election Project, in the 2012 election this age group accounted for 15.5 percent of the vote, and in the 2014 mid-term elections they provided only 10 percent of the vote. Young adults have the most to gain from legalization because they are the ones who get arrested more often than other age groups for marijuana offenses. They are also the age group least likely to vote. Nationally, voters 18 to 29 made up 19 percent of voters in the 2016 election. In the 2012 election, this age group accounted for 15.5 percent of the vote, and in the 2014 mid-term elections they provided only 10 percent of the vote.
Nationally, about 58 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election–that’s a little over 134 million voters out of a total voting population of 231 million.
There is an important lesson here, one that could be developed further by more and more data. But it doesn’t take much more data to make the point.
Most people think elections are won by getting a majority of the voters to support a specific candidate, political party or specific ballot initiative.
The important lesson from the 2016 election, and for that matter from every election ever held, is that elections are won by getting more people who support a particular candidate, party, or position to actually register and vote on election day than the competition.
In Arizona, the common way of reporting the results of the vote on marijuana legalization is that it was rejected by 52 percent of the voters. More accurately, the legalization measure was rejected by 52 percent of those voting. When it comes to “the voters” legalization was rejected in Arizona because 29.3 percent of the voters were against it while only 27 percent of the voters were for it. The rest of the voters did not vote.
This line of reasoning, to be fair, works both ways. The number votes in favor of legalization in other states, taken as a percentage of the total number of registered voters, also represents a minority of all voters—but in those cases a larger minority than the votes against legalization.
Either way you look at it, in terms of legalization measures that won or the one that lost in Arizona, the results represent what is more accurately called a plurality of the total number of voters in the states; the results do not constitute a majority of the registered voters.
Yes, of course, this is the dirty little secret of all election in the United States. And that’s the point of this column. Elections are decided by which side recruits the most voters to turn out to vote for one side or the other.
Who votes is just as important as what they vote for.
Marijuana legalization in Arizona could have won if more people who support it turned out to vote. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t vote. These include having problems getting time off from work, problems getting to the polling place, not understanding how to register and where to go vote, not knowing where their local polling place is, as well as just not realizing how important it is for everyone to exercised their right to vote. Another reason involves dissatisfaction with the choices they have on election day—and in the case of legalization in Arizona supporters of a different approach to legalization in the state were opposed to measure put before the voters.
Nonetheless, legalization was opposed in Arizona because 29 percent of the voters voted against it while only 27 percent of the voters were in favor. The real winner in that contest was not voting—supported by 44 percent of the voters in Arizona. How do you beat that? Easy—get more people to vote, especially more people who favor legalization.
Legalization of cannabis in the United States has just gotten started. It has a long way to go. It may have to succeed in more and more states before Congress even considers a national law. On the other hand, the best way to get Congress to consider and pass a national law is for more and more voters to not only support legalization but turn out to vote in congressional and presidential elections.
Historically young voters (in the 18- to 29-year-old age group) have the lowest levels of participation in elections, whether local, state, or national. Despite this, legalization has done pretty well so far on election day. But one way it can do better is for more young adults to vote, and to vote in every election. That bears repeating—the best way to increase the odds of marijuana be legalized is for young people to register to vote and to vote in every election, whether it has a marijuana initiative on the ballot or not. Register early in life, and vote in every election.
Who votes? Hopefully you do. Make it happen. Don’t wait for the next election. Register now.