In the years covered by the New Nation Votes project (1787-1825), democracy was thriving. Huge percentages of eligible voters took part in the process (far more than scholars used to think, information we now have thanks to Philip Lampi). Some of the elections were much different than we are used to now (in Maryland, for instance, prior to 1838, voters did not directly elect their State Senators; instead they would vote for electors – two for each county and one each for Baltimore and Annapolis, who would then elect the State Senate – for an example of a State Senate Electors election look here and for an example of the corresponding State Senate election look here). Voters would go to the polls several times a year because elections weren’t in conjunction and congressional elections, state elections and local elections were all held at different times.
That might seem odd to many people, but not to us here in Massachusetts. We’ve voted no less than five times in the last year. There was the primary for the special U.S. Senate election on December 8, 2009. Then there was the January 19 special election in which Scott Brown was elected to Ted Kennedy’s old seat. Next up were town elections on April 10. Then there were the statewide primaries held on September 14. Finally came the biannual congressional elections on November 2, which, in Massachusetts also included the election for Governor. So there we have it. We’ve gone out and voted 5 times in the last year.
By the way, you might ask, when people are asked to vote this many times, how many people actually do? Well, I can answer that question definitively for my own town: Arlington.
December 8, 2009 - 10,481 out of 29,802 registered voters (35.16%)
January 19, 2010 - 20,314 out of 30,010 registered voters (67.69%)
April 10, 2010 - 6,068 out of 29,703 registered voters (26.13%)
September 14, 2010 - 5,086 out of 29,421 registered voters (17.29%)
November 2, 2010 - 20,305 out of 29,434 registered voters (68.98%)
Of course, as you can probably tell, I live in a town where people come out and vote. Though our nearly 69% turnout this year falls way short of the 2008 Presidential election (in which 84.48% of registered voters voted), it is still 15% higher than the state turnout rate and 14% higher than the national turnout rate.