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How low can we go?

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Statewide voter turnout is pathetic

By Stephen Lega

National media commentators have made a big deal about President Barack Obama's relatively poor showing in the May 22 Kentucky Primary. Considering that he didn't have any opposition, it probably does mean something that more than 42 percent of the Democrats who did vote cast their ballots for uncommitted.

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On the Republican side former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney received 66.8 percent of his party's votes.

To me, the most significant number was the 13.8 percent voter turnout statewide. On election night, one election worker told me that several people had made it a point to tell him they were not going to vote in the primary.

I realize that it's becoming more and more rare for more than half of eligible voters to participate in any American election. I also realize that a primary election is less likely to draw voters than a general election.

But 13.8 percent is pathetic.

In Marion County, our numbers were even worse. Only 6.13 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In other words, only three out of every 20 possible voters bothered to go to the polls.

I admit that I'm only speculating by suggesting reasons why the turnout was so low statewide and even lower in our community, but here I go.

Obama didn't win Kentucky in 2008, and frankly, his own campaign has pretty well written off the Bluegrass State as a lost cause in 2012. One of his own campaign workers practically said as much when she spoke to the Kentucky Young Democrats at their convention in Lebanon earlier this year.

Nevertheless, that campaign official also said they would be looking for Democrats to help with the campaign... in Ohio, a swing state that is worth a lot more in terms of electoral votes.

At the same time, Kentucky's primary is so late that for all practical purposes, it's a non-factor with regard to deciding the presidential candidates. Technically, Romney hasn't officially wrapped up the Republican nomination, but each of his opponents on last week's ballot had already dropped out of contention - sorry, they've "suspended" their campaigns.

Lack of interest in the congressional race was also probably a factor in our poor participation. At one time, the debate was whether Marion County would remain in the Second Congressional District (represented by Republican Brett Guthrie) or move to the Sixth District (represented by Democrat Ben Chandler).

Instead we wound up on the outskirts of the First Congressional District (represented by Republican Ed Whitfield). Whitfield has a strong base of support in western Kentucky, and the First District is most certainly a western Kentucky district.

I'm probably not supposed to say this, but Marion County is as a much a factor in the congressional race as Kentucky is in the presidential race. That fact was reinforced when neither of the two self-described western Kentucky Democrats in the primary -- Dr. James Buckmaster and Charles Hatchett -- could say that they knew where Marion County is. One candidate knew we were close to Casey County, but didn't realize were north of our neighbor.

Neither Democratic candidate bothered to visit or even send a campaign representative to Marion County before the primary. I also wouldn't count on seeing either Hatchett (who won the Democratic primary) or Whitfield in person prior to the general election.

Nevertheless, voter turnout should go up in the fall.

We will have several local races. Three school board seats are up for election. City councils and commissions will be on the ballot, and we have two local candidates facing one another to serve as the 24th District state representative, the incumbent Democrat Terry Mills and former Lebanon City Councilman Republican Bill Pickerill.

Yes, we'll have a Presidential race on the ballot, but as I mentioned, the Obama campaign isn't likely to make more than a token appearance in Kentucky.

Despite that, I would still encourage people to vote. Our democracy may not be perfect, but to make it better people actually have to participate in the process.