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A good voter turnout in Connecticut

Published November 14. 2012 4:00AM

A prescient New Yorker magazine cover said it all in its Nov. 12, 2012, issue that arrived in mailboxes Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.

Against an otherwise all-black cover, a young, backpack-wearing man slogs through a flood of waist-deep water, his flashlight cast aglow on a "Vote Here" sign written in four languages.

"Undeterred," artist Adrian Tomine titled his post-election cartoon.

Undeterred we were, voting citizens of America, amid extreme and unnecessary bureaucratic and legislative barriers, along with unexpected atmospheric obstacles produced by Hurricane Sandy.

With official state numbers still being crunched, Connecticut's voter turnout could be as high as 75 to 80 percent. Back in 2008, more than 78 percent of Connecticut's registered voters turned out, while the state's all-time-high turnout percentage reached 90 percent in 1960.

Connecticut's projected 2012 numbers could be close to or even top that of Minnesota, the highest in the country, estimated at nearly 76 percent.

Nationwide, however, fewer voters cast ballots, with turnout at 57.5 percent, down from 62.3 percent in 2008 and 60.4 percent in 2004, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. An estimated 126 million people voted, and that means another 93 million eligible voters did not.

Also, the so-called youth vote, voters ages18 to 29, is slightly down from 52 percent in 2008 - with 50 percent nationwide voting within that age group, and Connecticut reaching 52 percent, as calculated by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

Unfortunately, many variables factor into mucking up the election process. Flooding and outages helped hamper turnout, although people took impressive measures to get those affected by the Superstorm to voting booths. Polls opened late in California after election workers overslept. Long lines grew in Ohio and Florida where there were too few voting machines. Some Hawaii polling places ran out of paper ballots. Jammed or malfunctioning voting machines and clerical errors also contributed to a less than optimal voting experience.

However, it is also difficult to ignore that lower 2012 turnout statistics might signify the beginning of a terrifying bellwether for democracy - increasingly decreased voter participation - and that the cause, while impossible to pinpoint, just might have to do with tougher voting rules enacted in 13 states. Those laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law, were among 180 such proposals in 41 states this year and last year.

Connecticut is doing the opposite, as Secretary of the State Denise Merrill continues working toward opening avenues for eligible voters to cast their ballots.

Not necessarily so in states such as Florida, where long lines meant voting past 1 a.m. last Wednesday, soon before President Obama delivered his victory speech. The president thanked those who participated in the election, whether they were first-time voters or whether they voted after waiting in line for a long time, adding, "By the way, we have to fix that."

One way to help fix that would be to make Election Day a holiday, along with working harder at opening up the voting process rather than closing it off.

Amid it all, voters showed they were, indeed, undeterred, and, in the words of Elizabeth MacNamara, president of the U.S. League of Women Voters, "The determination of voters came despite antics in Florida and Ohio to shorten voting hours, incorrect signage at Pennsylvania polling sites suggesting photo ID was required, poor election preparation causing long lines, and an onslaught of subversive robocalls intent on misdirecting voters."

Unable to truly know the turnout numbers as the New Yorker issue filled magazine racks and subscribers' mailboxes last week, the illustrator who created its cover delivered an optimistic message, a message that needs to be the focus of future work to turn around this disturbing trend toward shutting out eligible voters, and to do everything necessary to ensure that no eligible voter is undeterred.

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Are you confident with the ability of lawmakers to address the looming fiscal cliff?
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