By Angela Cookston
The Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement (CICE) hosted a lecture on Sept. 26, National Voter Registration Day, with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, on the importance of voter engagement: why people should want to vote and why that matters.
Kim Wyman was elected to be Washington’s 15th Secretary of State in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. She is only the second woman to hold this position in Washington’s history. “Secretary Wyman promotes civility and civic engagement and is committed to connecting people with their government,” the Washington Secretary of State website said.
Wyman began her talk with a disclaimer: “This will be interactive. I just can’t stand behind the podium and lecture; it’s not me.” She began with an activity that had the audience to engage in a hypothetical concert scenario. They got to choose to see either Ed Sheeran, Fergie or Thomas Rhett. The catch to the exercise was that only four people in the audience got to decide who everyone would go see at the hypothetical concert. The four audience members each picked Fergie. Many other audience members were disappointed that Ed Sheeran was not chosen.
Fundamentally, the problem with this exercise was that the choice did not represent the whole group, since not everyone participated in the decision.
“Okay so all of this stuff doesn’t happen in real life, clearly, because why? Representative form of government,” Wyman said, tying the activity back to voter engagement.
In Washington State, there are elections every year. Citizens get to vote to decide on legislation and elected officials, unlike the concert exercise in which not everyone was allowed to choose.
Wyman then had the audience engage in another activity that represented real life. She had everyone stand up. “What I want you to imagine is that right now, all of you standing here represent the state of Washington,” Wyman said.
“Washington State has a population of about 7.2 million people. But when we have an election, do all 7.2 million people get to vote?” Wyman asked the audience. The answer was no, because not everyone in Washington is qualified to register to vote.
The Secretary of State website said that in order to qualify to become a registered voter in Washington, someone must be a U.S. citizen and a legal resident of Washington. They must be at least 18 years old, and not under the supervision of the Department of Corrections for a felony.
Wyman had people sit down one at a time to show how many Washingtonians’ votes aren’t being represented. She had a percent of the audience sit down to show that of those who are eligible, only some are actually registered to vote. And of those registered, only some actually voted for lower-level political officials and electoral college members, who are ultimately the people that decide who wins the presidential election.
In the end, only four people were left standing. These people represented the small number of Washingtonians who were really getting represented in elections.
In the presidential election of 2016, only 76.83 percent of the voting-age population was registered to vote, and only 78.76 percent of those registered actually voted. In the end, only 60.52 percent of Washington’s eligible voting population voted
The numbers are worse for non-presidential elections. In the mid-term election in 2014, only 39.51 percent of the voting-age population voted. Additionally, in the Pierce County 2017 primary election, only 12.4 percent of 500 thousand registered voters voted. The above statistics came from the WA Secretary of State website.
“Most people only vote in the presidential election,” Wyman said. “But by and large the president of the United States does not affect your daily life.”
Wyman explained which things were decided by locally elected officials. “At the end of the day, the quality of the roads you drive on, the books your kids may read in school, how fast a first responder gets to you in an accident [and the] quality of the water that comes out of your tap … all of those decisions are made by local elected officials,” Wyman said.
“The great irony of what we just demonstrated is that very few people are the ones picking the mayors, and the city council members, and the school board members and the fire commissioners. And yet they’re the people that really do affect how your quality of life is here in Pierce County,” Wyman said.
18-25 year olds are the lowest percentage of people who vote. Why does this low percent of engagement matter? “When you don’t engage, you let other people vote for you,” Wyman said.
To vote in Washington’s Nov. 7, 2017 election, register online or by mail before Oct. 9 or in person before Oct. 30.