Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who is up for re-election this year, won his first race in 2008 by a margin of 312 votes out of 2,885,555. Franken went on to vote for the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), which likely would not have survived a Senate filibuster without Franken's vote. And who says elections don't matter?
In Luxembourg, voting is compulsory, and the voter turnout, not surprisingly, is greater than 70 percent. Eligible citizens who fail to vote face fines of 100-250 euros ($130-$325) for the first missed vote and 500-1,000 euros ($650-$1,300) thereafter. In fact, 22 countries have compulsory voting laws, and about half actually enforce them.
Closer to home, in Los Angeles, the City Ethics Commission (yes, there is such a thing) is urging the City Council to consider ways to pay people to vote. Because voter turnout is so low, the argument goes, providing incentives will surely help the cause of democracy.
This year, politicians are being counseled to energize their base, which means focusing on issues important to voters who are most likely to support them or their party in general. So we've seen countless ads portraying candidates as being harmful to one group of people or another—women, say, or the poor or "working families" as though families that include people who work are somehow unique. All this is intended to make sure people are engaged and energized enough to show up at the polls on Election Day. The expectation is voter turnout this year will be somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of eligible voters, so energized voters will matter.