Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett's compelling June 20 commentary in The Post and Courier connected the dots between the dismal turnout in the 2014 state primary election and voter apathy. Importantly, his analysis suggests additional factors contributing to low participation in our state's civic life.
I'm a long-time member of the League of Women Voters, an organization committed to increasing citizen engagement in our democracy. Based on experience, I can relate to Mr. Hargett's claim that, when people think that their votes don't matter and that issue advocacy with elected officials makes no difference, they zone out of civic participation, including voting.
Ours is a representative democracy in which citizens elect officials - local, state and federal - who are supposed to work in the best interest of all the residents of their districts, state and nation.
But we live in a state in which voting districts are gerrymandered to favor candidates of one of the major political parties. Thus incumbents remain in office until they commit some outrageously egregious offense or obtain a more lucrative position. Some stay in office even then.
Democracy suffers when citizens are discouraged from getting involved in civic life, including running for office themselves. Evidence of that is the dearth of women candidates.
Another factor contributing to citizen apathy is the perception that government is corrupt, leading many to wonder why they should bother to vote or take action on an issue.
Suspicion is heightened by reports that our state's laws governing the ethical behavior of officials are among the nation's weakest.
The recent refusal of the General Assembly to pass even a modest strengthening of the state's ethics laws demonstrates that the majority of legislators represent their own interests, not those of the citizens who elect them.
And citizen access to our democracy was only diminished with the state Supreme Court's recent ruling loosening agenda rules for public bodies like city and county councils, no longer requiring them to publish agendas before their regular meetings and allowing them to add to the list of items they plan to discuss or vote on any time during those meetings.
How do we go about improving our state's civic health? We do so by restoring faith in our electoral system and trust in elected officials. In a strong legislative state like South Carolina, action must start at the Statehouse.
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