Why Didn’t Tennesseans Vote?
“All Politics is Local” – Tip O’Neill. This quote from the late Speaker of the House is a reminder of the importance of local races on our daily lives and the significant effects those elections have for voters and non-voters alike. That was evident in Tennessee’s August 4th primary election in which only 20% of the state’s registered voters saw fit to participate. Although two counties exceeded 50%, that being Knox and Scott County; others, including Rutherford at 14.5%, saw disappointingly meager turnout.
This is particularly concerning when you consider that Rutherford County voters were being asked to select some very important officials who will undoubtedly play a prominent role in the future of this community, for better or for worse. Those elected were our next county and city mayor, sheriff, district attorney, county commissioners, city council members, school board members, and a large number of judgeships. That those choices were decided by so few is alarming and highlights the value of every vote since one county commission race was lost by a mere 38 votes, another was won by a mere 27.
That raises the question of why Tennesseans are loath to actively participate in the electoral process when they have so much at stake? Considering that we’re the 11th poorest state in the nation with 1 in 5 Tennessean living in poverty (according to World Population Review) with 35% of our state budget coming from federal aid, it’s obvious that the influx of new business and Tennessee’s robust economy is not trickling down to uplift Tennessee’s poor.
Having the 2nd highest number of minimum wage workers earning $7.25 per hour is a contributing factor, as is the anti-labor union position of Tennessee’s pro-business Republican majority. One need only look at the misleadingly named “Right to Work Amendment No. 1” upcoming on November’s ballot to see the concerted and longstanding effort by Republicans to keep labor unions out of Tennessee thereby assuring that our working class remains obedient and underpaid forever more.
Then, there’s the fact that since 2014, by the legislature’s own estimate, Tennessee has lost and continues to lose $1.4 billion annually in federal health care funding. As a result, Insurance Newsnet reports that 836,000 Tennesseans are without health insurance - 3rd highest nationally. According to a recent statewide poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, 63% of Tennesseans support Medicaid Expansion, a fact which Republican lawmakers continue to ignore despite the closure of 16 hospitals, which has made access to healthcare increasingly unavailable for many living in rural areas.
Even though 80% of Tennesseans think abortion should remain legal in some instances, Republican lawmakers enacted some of the most draconian anti-abortion laws in the nation designed to make childbirth mandatory regardless the circumstances or risks to mother and child. Practically speaking, that seems ill-considered given this state’s high level of poverty, nearly 9,000 unwanted foster children (400 of whom await adoption) , and a teen pregnancy rate which already is 10th highest in the nation.
Another source of concern for voters should be Tennessee’s status as 3rd most dangerous state for violent crime as reported by WalletHub and The Center Square. Widespread and unrestricted gun ownership has also resulted in our having the 5th highest incidence of road rage shootings. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now reports that the risk of being randomly killed by someone wielding a gun in this state is greater than that of dying in a car accident.
So given the myriad of ways in which Tennesseans continue to be ill-served by their elected officials, it’s hard to understand why voters wouldn’t hold accountable those responsible for their woes. The loss of women’s reproductive freedom is startling evidence that ours is a democracy in peril. The upcoming November 8th election is an opportunity for Tennessee voters to actively engage in the defense of our inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” as guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. Now is the time to elect those who are committed to serving our democracy and the best interests of We, the people of Tennessee.
- Chloe Cerutti
Murfreesboro, TN 37128