This letter to the editor of the Durham News was published on October 28th.
In his October 10th column Primary Turnout Sets “New Low” Jim Wise points out that $175,000 was spent on Durham’s City Council Primary election where only 5,988 individuals voted. The assumption is that $29.23 a vote is too much to spend. This analysis perceives the end of free elections to be the action of voting itself, instead of the results of those elections.
What does voting do? It resolves the question: How will we make collective decisions?
How greatly do we value this resolution? If the election costs $175,000, fine. If that works out to $30 per participating voter, so what? If more voters participated, the average cost would have gone down, but the total cost may have increased, and the total opportunity cost (in terms of voter's time) would absolutely increase.
We can possibly be pleased when voter turnout is low, since it represents a more efficient resolution of the relevant question: How to make collective decisions. If there is little contention between candidates, then there is greater agreement within the community, so we will want to expend fewer resources on elections.
It is easy to say we want more people to vote, but it is not necessarily true. The group most likely to complain about voter turnout is the one whose candidate lost. Otherwise, it does not matter how many vote, only how many are pleased with the outcome.