Last month’s election set a new record low for voter turnout in a Texas primary – 17.5 percent. My Lake Highlands precinct didn’t do much better, collecting only 403 votes in the Republican Primary and 85 in the Democratic Primary out of 2,146 registered voters – a 22.7 percent turnout.

And mine is a precinct that would appear to be in a solid, responsible, community-conscious neighborhood; in other words, a precinct from which more should be expected.

There are typically two reasons people don’t show up at the polling place: ignorance and apathy. Are we ignorant because we are apathetic? Or are we apathetic because we are ignorant?

Neither question addresses the real problem.

We go shopping instead of voting because candidates aren’t selling what we want to buy. And ignorance naturally follows apathy. Where there is no incentive to become interested, there is no incentive to learn.

We usually scold those who fail to vote for taking a precious right for granted and for exercising poor citizenship. Although that criticism is appropriate, I think it is more important to determine why most of us fail to vote.

If you were a passenger on the Titanic after it struck the iceberg, more than likely you would not spend time with the concierge trying to decide whether to rent a car from Hertz or Avis when you arrived in New York City.

Why not?

Well, besides the fact that car rental agencies didn’t exist in 1912, there would be more pressing matters to attend to – like survival.

And a decision between two agencies, either of which would probably be able to provide you with a car, just would not be important enough, especially under the circumstances, to spend any time thinking about it.

Those of us who fail to vote are like passengers on a sinking ship. Survival – in the form of getting a paycheck, providing for our families, obeying the law and trying to avoid becoming a victim of crime – is foremost on our minds.

To many of us, political contests at all levels of government are no more important than choosing between car rental agencies. It doesn’t matter who wins because, on the day after the election, we still have to get a paycheck, provide for our families, obey the law, and get through the day without being shot, raped, or robbed.

Simply put, the stakes just aren’t high enough to motivate many of us to act. We generally acknowledge the severity of the problems in government, but we don’t see credible solutions being offered by candidates, so we don’t see any reason to participate.

That sense of helplessness, even uselessness, about modern politics permeates our country, our state and our community, down to my very own precinct in the otherwise upstanding area of Lake Highlands.

“We perceive that candidates no longer offer any hope for credible, meaningful change, so we tune them out and decide to wash our cars, go to the movies, bake cookies, take our kids to Indian Guide meetings, shampoo the dog, or engage in any number of alternative activities, rather than go to the trouble of casting our vote.

To be honest, for a lot of us, the act of voting painfully reminds us of our sense of futility, so we do everything in our power to avoid it.

The cure for voter apathy and greater participation in deciding how we will govern ourselves ultimately will be found only in a campaign message that offers a substantive difference; a message that convinces us that we are capable of recovering our sense of independence and autonomy; a message that represents a lifeboat to passengers on a sinking ship.

Anything less, and you are just rearranging deck chairs.