The Disenfranchised Rural Voter

Do you ever wonder why rural voters complain about the coastal elites running our federal government? With Congress in upheaval, I decided to find out, and the more people I talk to here in rural Colorado, the more I find that my neighbors are aware of what’s going on in DC and don’t care because they have been isolated from the democratic process. Some of my neighbors are just plain mad. They are not mad at the latest dysfunction in Congress as much as they are mad at their representatives because their reps refuse to make the effort to engage with their constituency.  

At our local diner, I spoke with two elderly residents who don’t know the name of our congressional rep. They are so disenfranchised that one said he didn’t know who he voted for; he just saw the “R “and checked the box.

To illustrate the issue, I will discuss my Congressional District, which Ken Buck represents in Colorado Congressional District 4 in Prowers County, Colorado.

As you can see by the map, District 4 covers a lot of territory, with a population of 858,938 as of 2021 and over 38,000 square miles; since 2022, that has changed somewhat as the district’s size was reduced, and some counties were moved to district 3. That’s still a lot of territory to cover. Our representative, Ken Buck, has two office locations: one is in Windsor, and the other is in Castle Rock. Both offices are just outside Denver. To visit with Rep. Buck, I have to drive well over 3 hours through farm and ranch land dotted by occasional and very rural population centers.

Why do we feel left out of the democratic process? Because everyone I speak to in my county cannot remember Rep. Buck visiting the area. However, looking through his previous schedule, he visited our main town (Lamar, CO) to hold a town hall session in 2018. That was the last local event that he attended. There was very little notice of the event, and few locals attended. As a citizen journalist, I try to stay informed about this sort of event, and I had no idea it happened.

While looking for his previous visits out here, I started looking through Rep. Buck’s social media feeds. Since January, most of the events he attended have been central to the Denver area: a Colorado Bankers Association meeting in Denver in March, a Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce dinner in Denver in May, a Public Service Leadership Awards ceremony in Englewood, CO, in July, and this month, a National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) Filipiniana Gala held (go ahead and guess) in Denver. Notice a pattern?

With these events and his appearances on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, our representative has very little time for his rural district, and his biggest concerns have shifted away from the voters who put him in office. My neighbors see him on TV with the other talking heads, addressing national problems while we suffer neglect and disinterest because our needs do not land us on the prime-time news shows.

A challenger to Rep. Buck announced his campaign recently. Trent Leisy of Weld County decided that enough was enough and threw his hat in the ring. I mentioned online that “It would be nice if Ken Buck had an office central to his constituents. But I guess he doesn’t really represent us.” Mr. Leisy responded to that, “Sad, but true!”. With those words ringing in my ears, I decided to volunteer for his campaign. I’ve never worked for a campaign before and learned some interesting things about enfranchising rural voters.

Here are the meat and potatoes of what works and what doesn’t in rural campaigns for state and federal office—first, some statistics to better understand the demographics of rural Colorado. The median age in my county is 38.5 years, as opposed to Denver County, where Denver is located, and the median age is 34.6 years. Another rural county, Baca County, is at 45.9 years, while Kiowa County is 39.8 years. El Paso County, where Colorado Springs is located, is at 34.4 years of age.

The rural areas are aging. My county is covered with farm and ranch land; most people working there don’t spend time on social media. Those who do get online browse the county buy and sell site, join a canning group for ideas and recipes, or use social media to keep in touch with family and friends. But they are too busy working the land to be on social media all day. They are too busy feeding America.

Where does rural politics get off the rails? Let’s start with the new thing in campaigning: memes. Memes have been recently coined as modern-day political cartoons. Searching for the word “meme” online will give you a plethora of results, some for, some against, and opinions vary widely on their effectiveness. But the one interesting thing about memes is you must be online to see them. The aging demographic is not likely to see these because they are not obsessively online like the younger generation. Do memes work? Like any tool, they have their uses; to be fair, I enjoy them. But they don’t really work out here in rural America.

So, what does work? It’s time to go old school, and here is the perfect meme to get us started.

If candidates want to get noticed and garner votes in my neck of the woods, they must return to tried-and-true grassroots campaigns. Utilizing collective volunteer efforts focusing on face-to-face engagement and being willing to drive, knock on doors, talk to people, and place yard signs. It shows that the candidate cares about rural voters. The key is spending time at the rural community centers to meet people, listen to their concerns, and get airtime on a local radio station. More than anything else, ruralites appreciate the face-to-face and eye-to-eye approach. They will take you more seriously and appreciate the words from their candidate of choice more if it is in person. That’s only half the battle, though.

A candidate can spend all the money in the world to place radio, TV, and even YouTube ads, but at the end of the day, it’s the face-to-face that matters most out here. My word is that my bond and a handshake go a long way, especially right now, because our current representative appears to have forgotten about us. Most people out here feel forgotten and, in some cases, outright disowned. Some of the disenfranchised simply no longer vote. In the last Colorado primary held in 2020 here in Prowers County, out of 11,996 residents, there were 7,393 registered voters. Of those 7,393, only 6,391 were considered active. Out of those 6,391, only 2,448 participated, which is 38.30%. That’s an abysmal 20.40% of the total county population.

To sum things up, for the rural vote, it will take a formidable ground game to get noticed and obtain those votes. Mailers and memes will only get you so far. Getting in front of people, talking to them about their concerns, discussing your platform, recruiting volunteers, asking for them to help knock on doors with you, registering new voters, and asking them to participate in the elections is a winning strategy in Flyover Country. To bring rural voters back into the process, they must know that urban politicians care about them.

David Setliff is a writer who "delivers a worldview from the rural perspective." He is the author of The Flyover Chronicles on Substack. You can follow Dave on X here.


Get the latest news delivered daily!

We will send you breaking news right to your inbox

© 2024