Co-op Members Make an Impact at the Polls
by Jay RouseBy Jay Rouse
Over the last year, electric cooperatives across the country promoted a grassroots program called Co-ops Vote in an effort to encourage rural voters to vote in the 2016 election. In order for rural issues to be given a higher priority, cooperatives across America knew that the strongest signal we could send to our elected officials was to vote in higher numbers than in 2012. Our purpose was to re-engage rural voters who failed to turn out in 2012.
Well, electric co-op members across the country answered the call and turned out in force. For those of you who cast your votes this past Election Day, we thank you. Based on the 2016 vote totals and analysis by political scientists around the country, rural voters made a difference. By casting a ballot, co-op members like you made their voices heard in their communities, their states, and across the country.
The United States Election Project estimates roughly 60 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2016, about the same as the 2012 presidential election. Though the overall turnout remained similar to recent presidential elections, rural voters made a strong return to the polls. After an 18 percent drop in rural turnout in 2012, our resurgence was pivotal to the outcome of the election. Our strong showing, combined with lower participation among urban voters, made a significant difference in several elections across the country.
What was responsible for this change? Some say it was the candidates and their renewed efforts to appeal to often overlooked segments of the population. Some say it was the lack of attention that issues like rural economic development and rural broadband had previously received that motivated rural voters to increase their involvement. Who knows what made the most difference? What we do know is through efforts like Co-ops Vote, rural voters were making a statement that issues important to their communities need to be addressed.
Regardless of the candidates you support to represent your interests, I believe today rural voters in North Carolina and across the country must seize this opportunity to capitalize on our newfound attention. To use a farming phrase, “Let’s make hay while the sun is shining!” There are many smart elected officials around the country who recognize rural folks played a major role in their election and are asking, “How do I stay in the good graces of these voters?” It is our duty to laud our elected officials when they champion our issues, and it is also our duty to give them feedback when they are balancing the interests of multiple constituencies.
We encourage you to reach out to your elected officials and talk to them about issues of importance to you and your community. As electric cooperatives, our primary focus is safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible generation and distribution of electricity. But we also care deeply about issues such as education, economic development, rural broadband, and others that make such a difference in improving and sustaining rural quality of life. Together, let’s continue to make our voices heard.