Like bankruptcy stories, stories on voter apathy are also rare in the American media, but partly because of the infrequency of elections.
The main statistic that sticks is the fact that in the last presidential election (1996), only 49% of the voters turned out to vote. That meant voter apathy stood at 51% = the highest since 1924, presenting yet another ominous parallel between our own times and the Roaring Twenties (and their undeniably depressed sequel). These figures were broadcast on election eve in November 1996 in the Boston area by one of the three major commercial TV networks.
Our explanation for voter apathy is do-nothing legislatures. Our solution to voter apathy is to move more steadily from representative democracy (now becoming dysfunctional plutocracy) toward direct democracy based on issue-oriented referendums - to do an "end run" around the whole money-drowned, PAC&lobbyist-encumbered, do-nothing mess in the U.S. Congress and in many of the state houses. (Massachusetts, for example, went the entire summer of 1999 without a budget - these "representatives" can't even do the basics! Note article "Fewer laws win passage this year - Ceremonial votes mark session of [Mass.] Legislature" by Michael Crowley, Boston Globe, 9/06/99, p.B1.)
Direct or electronic democracy, borne by referendums and citizen initiatives, can move us towards Buckminster Fuller's vision of "24-hour telephone referendums." Bucky Fuller used to point out that we already had the technological capability. The Voting By Phone group in Boulder, Colorado, says we have the capability today to fraud-proof to an ATM-level of security.
Switzerland offers a political design constituting the most advanced referendum system in the world today. Write to the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC for the latest edition of their booklet, Switzerland's Political Institutions by Oswald Sigg. John Kenneth Galbraith offers a brief but useful background in "The Swiss Case" section of the "Democracy, Leadership, Commitment" chapter (Ch.12) in his classic The Age of Uncertainty (1977).
For more details, see our laypersons' guide Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at bookstores in Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge, Mass.
Questions, comments, feedback? Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston) or email us.