Ballot counting

For years, we have heard a few thousand tales about election theft, conspiracies and fraud. “They,” we are told, hand-pick certain candidates to win, rigging the balloting to get their preferred outcome.

This conspiracy leverages evil ballot-counting machines, or the pens used to bubble ballots, or “mules,” or ballot harvesting, or human hijinks. Whatever.

I have heard it all, most of it going in one ear and out the other. Until now. 

Because now I want to tell you about the real election disgrace, the one that happened Aug. 2 — primary day — when a handful of us helped determine the future of Arizona for all of us.

You’ve heard about the Big Lie. Now comes the Big Truth.

The American system of choosing who governs us is based not on getting you to vote but on getting you to stay home. And it’s working incredibly well. 

Let me explain.

Arizona is a state of 7.3 million people, with 5.7 million residents age 18 or older. That’s our voting age population. However, as of primary day, only 4.2 million had actually registered to vote. The other 1.5 million Arizonans decided to sit out this civic duty entirely or have been disqualified for a felony conviction or some other factor. 

Then the Democrats and Republicans — I see little difference between the two — really got busy. In Arizona, 1.4 million voters have registered without choosing a party. For this cohort to vote in the primary, each voter had to jump through multiple hoops to choose a party ballot. That further winnowed election participants.

So did the relentless advertising blitz that accompanied this primary. Campaign finance reports for the Arizona governor’s race alone show upward of $40 million spent before July 15.

It was a hideous noise fest, with vicious allegations of unfitness, lying and lawbreaking. Any rational person consuming these ads could only conclude the primary races were being contested by criminals and morons.

Voters acted accordingly. 

When the last ballot is counted — by county elections officials or some cabal or fraudsters — about 1.4 million Arizonans will have chosen a candidate. The parties will natter on about “record primary turnout,” despite the turnout hovering around 30% of registered voters.

Only about 1 in 4 Arizona adults will have voted. Count everybody including children and the voting rate sinks to about 1 in 5 residents.

Lucky us, we’ll get to do it all again in November.

This electoral system of ours is irrevocably broken, delivering us the least and the slightest, bitter partisans, conspiracy loons and the power-mad.

My proof of this failure?

The best way to judge how well systems work is by how frequently they are adopted. Amazon Prime, launched in 2005, counts 163 million customers nationwide. About 95% of American adults go online. When in pursuit of information, about 90% choose Google, launched in 1998, as their go-to search engine. These systems work.

Then there’s the election system, founded in 1776. It’s never been easier to vote. The ballot comes by mail, you bubble it in and mail it, postage free. Or you drive a couple miles one or two Tuesdays a year and wait in a line typically shorter than the Safeway checkout. You even get a sticker for voting, so you feel like a hero for one day.

Even so, 3 in 4 Arizona adults can’t be bothered. That’s the Big Truth underlying the 2022 primaries.

The shame wasn’t how “they” counted who did show up. The shame was the lousy choices and millions of dollars that persuaded 75% of us not to bother showing up at all.