People have accused Joseph Garcia of being hyperbolic when he says Arizona is having a "voting crisis." But he says the word crisis is meant to sound an alarm.
Garcia says (according to Merriam Webster) a crisis is when there's a "distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome." Garcia is a public policy director with Arizona State University's Morrison Institute of Public Policy. He's a co-author of "Arizona's Voter Crisis," funded by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which provides participating candidates with public dollars for their campaigns and sponsors debates and other voter-education efforts.
In Arizona, 45 percent of eligible voters didn't cast a ballot in 2016 election, according to the report. The report also found that Arizona ranked 43 out of the 50 states' voter turnout.
"Only a portion are making decisions for the whole and often times, the people that are affected more are younger people, starting families, starting businesses," Garcia said. "What you have are less well-educated, poor, non-white citizens feeling alienated from the democratic process."
Garcia says voting for the first time can be overwhelming, like inviting a friend over to watch season six of Game of Thrones when they've never seen an episode.
"We have to make information accessible," he said. "We don't just want to drive more people to the polls. We want to drive more educated voters to the polls."
The study also looked at why people don't vote. Garcia said some of the primary answers were: too busy, didn't want to, forgot, out of town, didn't like the candidates and didn't know how to vote. One reason people don't know how to vote is the lack of a single place where Arizonans can get unbiased information on state and local politics. The Clean Elections Commission is working to rectify that.
At the Clean Elections website, voters can find many tools with which to educate themselves, including a voter education guide, a mobile app, a Facebook chatbot and candidate debates.
Garcia says because of a lack of voter participation, Arizona voters who decide election outcomes are more educated, richer, whiter and older than the Arizona population as a whole. He explains you have to use the term "representative" very loosely to consider our system a representative democracy.
That's a problem and the reason why we're laying out our top 13 reasons to vote:
1. Non-voters are deciding election outcomes. Not voting because you don't feel represented in government is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're part of the 45 percent of eligible voters who didn't cast a 2016 general election ballot, you're part of a group whose absence is larger than all Arizona votes cast for any Republican, Democrat or issue.
2. We have a nail-biter of a Senate election. It's been a long time since Democrats have been competitive in a statewide race, but Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is giving Republican Martha McSally a run for her money as McSally has gone all in on Trump while trying to dodge her past votes to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, allow internet providers to sell your data and expand the deficit through tax cuts for corporations and America's wealthiest citizens.
3. Control of the U.S. House of Representatives is on the line.In Southern Arizona, we have two competitive races for the Arizona House of Representatives: In Congressional District 2, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is facing Republican Lea Marquez Peterson, while in Congressional District 1, Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran is facing a challenge from Republican Wendy Rogers. Nationwide, Democrats have an uphill battle in seizing control of the House of Representatives because they are up against gerrymandered district that heavily favor Republicans. Southern Arizona's two races are key to changing the balance of power.
4. Because we need to fix the roads. Pima County voters have a chance to vote yes on Prop 463 in order to fund desperately needed road repairs. The best part about it—besides all the new asphalt—is that the county has been paying off a lot of debt, so we can borrow $430 million in short-term loans without even raising our tax rates. Hell yeah!
5. Because we can fix up our parks. City of Tucson voters have a similar chance to pump $225 million into our parks, providing us with new pools, splashpads, playgrounds, lighted parks and pedestrian and bike paths that will link up with The Loop. And, as with the county road bonds, we can do it without increasing our tax rates because old debt is getting paid off. Vote yes on Prop 407 for the kids!
6. Because we can save our public schools. GOP lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature are hell-bent on destroying public education in this state. One way they're trying to do that is by taking public dollars and giving them away to private and religious schools by giving parents vouchers that will help them cover the cost of private school tuition. Even worse, lawmakers didn't even think to set aside some of these vouchers for the kids that now need them: disabled kids, foster kids, Native American kids and other kids with special needs. This is a terrible idea. Vote no on Prop 305.
7. Because we can help battle climate change. The big utilities have worked to undermine solar energy in recent years by purchasing the elected representatives on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Prop 127 is your chance to reverse the impact of those big dollars by requiring utilities to get more of their energy from solar and other renewable resources. Vote yes!
8. Because you don't like the candidates. Wait, what? Yes, because you don't like the candidates. The political landscape isn't going to change to your liking unless you get involved and the first step is voting. "Social change, whether it's right or left, happens when a group of people joins the coalition of the party and pushes the party," says Tom Collins, executive director of Arizona Clean Elections. Simply put: You can't be heard if you stay silent.
9. Because it's your social duty. We live in a democracy and have a responsibility to our community to make it a functioning one. Collins says the excuse that not voting is a personal choice denies the "community responsibility to vote."
"If you atomize everything so that each individual is just an individual acting on their own without any responsibility to their community, to their city, to their county, to their state, to their families, to anybody else, that's not the foundational doctrine of this country whether you like it or not," he said. "Voting is individual and private, but it is a very public process."
10. See what you look like with flapping wings. Clean Elections commissioned an "augmented reality" mural on the side of the all-ages music venue 191 Toole. People can scan a QR code and take a photo of themselves through the Shazam app in front of the large, colorful mural to animate the wings. The app has a link that allows users to register to vote in a few minutes.
11. Because Latinx need to flex some political muscles. Although issues of race and immigration were in the forefront of the 2016 presidential race, more than half of Latinx voters didn't participate in the election, according to the Pew Research Center. Latinx comprise almost a third of Arizona's population and growing: 50,000 Latinx in the U.S. turn 18 every month, according to Garcia. The median age for Latinx is 26 while the median age for non-Latinx whites is 44. Most young Latinx are U.S. citizens, and many of them fall into the three categories of people who are less likely to vote: poor, less educated and young. While many issues that Latinx care about can lean toward either party, Garcia says the Republican stance on immigration may be the issue that pushes them left.
12. Be a replacement voter. The early votes are rolling in, with the median voter's age being 57, according to Collins. "We have an increase in participation in this general election," he said. "We had an increase in participation in the primary election, but what we don't have is an increase in participation, necessarily, among those who are younger."
Garcia uses an hourglass analogy: The sands at the bottom are older, whiter voters and the sands trickling in are younger and browner. Without replacement voters, old, white people—a declining demographic—will continue to rule the world.
13. Because Taylor Swift said you should vote. If that doesn't get you youngsters to the polls, nothing will!