Voter turnout in the United States is darn right embarrassing. The Census Bureau in 2012 distributed voter numbers that graphically illustrates how few Americans vote. In 2012 the Census stated that in America there were 206 million plus eligible voters of which 131 million plus were registered voters That number represents roughly 63.5 % of those who could vote. Now if you then take the number who actually voted in that presidential election the percentage drops to approximately 33% of those eligible to vote. Presidential cycles always have more people voting. So if you take a typical presidential cycle of let us say 53% of those registered , that is much better than off year elections for Congress which typically have voting percentages below 40%. If you then look at the percentage of those eligible to vote the numbers are gruesome. We basically have numbers closer to 1/4 of those who could vote, vote.
You might ask yourself why does it matter? In a Republic if you have such miserable voting percentages, it will be the ideological activists who decide elections. This can never be good, the goal should be to increase the numbers of those who both register and those who vote. You will thereby get a better reflection of what the people are thinking and what they are concerned about. If only those who vote do so derive their reason for voting from passion and the certitude that they are right, the political divide will never improve and the rudderless ship of state will continue on its path. The ultimate result will find our ship of state floundering on the rocks, stuck in neutral and hopelessly going nowhere.
Low voter turnout is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the time after the Civil War, we witnessed a much higher percentage of Americans voting. Europeans were amazed at how committed Americans were to vote. Even Alexis de Tocqueville noted that ” politics was the only pleasure an American knows.” Political parties were stronger and organized people to vote. The percent of those who voted during the era after the Civil War was 70% and higher.
It is important to take a look at the Census Bureau’s breakdown of voting patterns from their voter demographics from the 2012 election: They broke down the vote as follows:
Each succeeding age group voted at a progressively higher percentage
less that High School-50.5 %
High School Grad.- 64%
The survey indicated the top reasons for not voting. They were as follows:
Too busy, their schedule: 17.5%
illness or disability: 14.9%
Did not like the candidates-12.9%
Out of town- 8.8%
There were a few other reasons but you get the picture. Some of these reasons are fixable and we have a duty to our citizens to make voting easier not more difficult. Recent patterns of voter suppression in some states flies in the face of the 15th Amendment which simply and clearly states that no state shall deprive a citizen of the right to vote. We have seen discriminatory rules such as the poll tax and registration exams in primarily Southern states that suppressed the vote historically.
As indicated by the study done by the journal Electoral studies, voter fraud does occur but in very small numbers by non-citizens. The only case where the numbers of fraudulent voting matter are in very close elections. The important fact though is that the new voter ID laws discourage many more voters from voting than the small amount of fraudulent voting that does occur.
What are possible solutions to the problem of low voter turnout?
Let’s take the category of people who are too busy. Folks, we are now living in the computer era.
In the Los Angeles Metropolitan area you might find yourself working far from your home. The reality is that you might be stuck on the freeway during the morning commute and the evening commute is very real. Why do you have to vote at only your local polling place near your home? An easy solution is that by using a computer they can find your name and address, check your I.D. to make sure you are the person who you claim to be and then have you vote at a polling place near your work.
In recent years, voting by mail, early voting and same day registration are ways that make voting easier. If these reforms were more uniform, the reason for not voting because of a lack of time or a schedule problem could be remedied.
One reason previously stated is problems with registration. This too, could be easily fixed. In 2008 , 2.2 million people could not vote because of registration snafus. How can we fix the problem? Again technology offers a solution by simply automating the records by switching from paper records to electronic records would help substantially. Only 9 states offer on line registration.
Keep voter lists up to date. The private sector can help make sure our voter lists are kept up to date by using the private sector databases to ensure that things are kept more up to date.
States with same day registration have a 10 to 15% greater turnout, including Minnesota which normally has the highest voter turnout of any state. Maine led the way in voter turnout in 2014 and they have a program of same day registration.
Minnesota is a good case study of what they do to have such a high voter turnout. One thing they have is a culture where voting is a duty. Young people have a program in high school to where they work in polling places. In schools they use voting machines early on in school elections to help students get used to the process.
There are two other options, one is to change the day from a Tuesday to a weekend or have it be a four day event, for example from Saturday through Tuesday. Times have changed, we no longer need it to be on a Tuesday. When we first began voting it took a long time to get to the polls. We no longer have to depend on our horse to get to the polls.
Perhaps for those working you could make it a paid holiday. If you have proof that you voted, your employer, would then pay you. Tuesday is a bad day to vote. 25% of respondents have indicated that working on Tuesday severely impacts whether they vote or not.
Society and especially the local community in which the ill and disabled live should make an effort to help those with an affliction, so that they can vote. Just about 15% of those who did not vote listed illness and a disability as their reason for not voting.
Education is a important consideration as well. The Census Bureau’s statistics show that a person’s level of education is reflected in the numbers of who votes and who does not vote. It is amazing to note that for many citizens their personal knowledge of their own government lags behind new citizens who have to take a civics exam to become a citizen. If you do not understand your rights under the Constitution it is easier for you to lose your rights. What is lacking is that we no longer require that students take a Civics course in High School.
We could also make voting mandatory. I am not sure that would work in America, because one should have the freedom to not vote. From a civic duty standpoint it is something to consider. If you don’t vote, a person does not have a reason to complain about things. Voting is the one way that each citizen can have his voice heard. Perhaps we could make registration automatic. When you are born you get a social security card after a period of time. Why can’t we make registration automatic with birth just like social security?
For people who complain about the quality of the candidates, get involved and try to make sure there is a candidate you like by being part of the solution and not part of the problem.
As Benjamin Franklin once said in response to a question from a woman when he exited the Constitutional Convention. We have a Republic if we can keep it. Currently most of the voters are the ideological activists and contribute mightily to the partisan divide. We need to expand the vote in order to regain our Republic from the oligarchs who control the outcomes of our political debate. Two many people have died to guarantee that each and every citizen has the right to vote. Let us make sure that they did not die in vain. Let us be eternally vigilant that our Republic lives by being pro-active and vote.