Let’s start with this: what’s the biggest threat to democracy in the U.S.? Arguably, it’s not Russian meddling or voter suppression — although both of those are worthy of taking top honors (and in time, they might). The biggest enemy to free and fair elections is, as it always has been, the enemy within: a.k.a. voter disengagement.
For example, in the 2016 Presidential election, a paltry 56% of eligible voters showed up to the polls . Compare this to recent national elections in Belgium (87%), Sweden (83%), Australia (79%), and Hungary (72%). Indeed, for all of the U.S.’s democratic history, symbolism and rallying — heck, some people even have their ride pimped out by classic car restoration specialists to showcase their heroic candidates — turnout was just a smidgen ahead of folks in Luxembourg (55%), which has a Grand Duke.
To help combat voter malaise, Arkansas Senator Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) has introduced a bill in the state legislature (SB 276) that would see the state’s primary election get bumped up from May to March, 2020 (initially Garner proposed a date in February, but has since changed it to March 3). The idea is that an earlier primary means the state’s voters will have greater choice as more candidates will still be in the race; or at least, hanging on for dear life and looking to swing a deal of some consequence. At the same time, it gives the state the opportunity to have a greater impact on the shape and tenor of the Presidential election nationwide (for the record — or just electoral infotainment — the 2016 Arkansas primaries were won by two people you may have heard of: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton).
For Arkansas voters, if this sounds like Déjà vu or seems like the movie Groundhog Day (watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy!), then there is something to that perception. Arkansas did indeed pass a bill that temporarily moved the primary voting date in 2016 back a couple of months. However, Garner and those that support his efforts want to make the change permanent starting in 2020 and going forward.
While the bill will doubtlessly get passed in the Republican dominated Arkansas legislature, there might be some pushback from Democrats who have concerns that moving the date will prolong the national election — which could ultimately contribute to instead of thwart voter fatigue.
As always, voters will decide — whether they show up at polls, or whether they do not. (Or maybe it’s just time for Uncle Sam to give way to a Grand Duke?)