Only 67% or all eligible voters are even registered to vote. That is only two out of every three adults. In Part I of this project, I looked at the reasons people gave for not voting, some of which were ludicrous, such as “forgot”, “weather”, and “too busy”. But there are some legitimate reasons that people do not vote. To understand these, I think it is important to look at some of the demographics of the non-voters.
Among white voters, 73.5% of eligible voters did actually vote in 2016. But minorities were much less likely to vote, with only 69.7% of African-Americans, 59.4% of Latinos, and the lowest group being Asians at 55.3%.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of eligible voters who vote increases with age:
Age 18 to 24 58.5%
Age 25 to 34 66.4%
Age 35 to 44 69.9%
Age 45 to 54 73.5%
Age 55 to 64 76.6%
Age 65 to 74 78.1%
Age 75 or older 76.6%
I suspect, with the heightened awareness of young people in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February, we will see an increase in the 18-24 age group this November.
There is absolutely nothing surprising in this set of statistics:
Less than high school graduate 50.5%
High school graduate 64.1%
Some college 75.3%
Bachelor’s degree 81.2%
Advanced degree 85.8%
Again, no real surprises here:
Income less than $20,000 63.7%
$20,000 to $29,999 67.1%
$30,000 to $39,999 71.1%
$40,000 to $49,999 72.6%
$50,000 to $74,999 78.2%
$75,000 to $99,999 81.9%
$100,000 and over 79.6%
While this one isn’t surprising, it is disturbing, for the very people who most need fairness from our government are the least likely to vote to make a difference.
Taken together, when we look at the demographics, look at who is and who isn’t voting, is it any wonder that we currently have a government that is “Of the wealthy white people, By the wealthy white people, and For the wealthy white people”? They are the ones who vote!
All of the above statistics are understandable when put into context. There are a number of things that have led to the disenfranchisement of lower income and minority voters. Consider gerrymandering, redistricting states so that most minorities are grouped into as few as districts as possible so as to be given a much weaker voice than their white counterparts. I have shared this graphic before, but it is still the clearest, most understandable explanation of how gerrymandering can change the outcome of an election:And then there are the various efforts by many states to make it more difficult for lower income and minorities to vote, such as shortening the hours that polls are open, and closing polling places in poorer or predominantly minority areas. Twenty states do not allow a person convicted of a felony to vote while serving a sentence or while on probation. Two states, Florida and Virginia, permanently disallow convicted felons voting privileges.
In some cases, voter I.D. may be difficult to obtain. Consider these cases:
A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before. – New York Times, 10 March 2018
In 1965, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the single most important piece of legislation to come from the Civil Rights movement. It eliminated certain barriers to voting, such as literacy testing and other requirements that denied many blacks the right to vote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act precluded certain states and districts that had a history of disenfranchising blacks, from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. Chief Justice John Roberts said, essentially, that times had changed and the Court believed racial discrimination was no longer the problem it was in the 1960s. Almost immediately on the heels of this ruling, Texas announced new voter identification laws and redistricting maps. Other states in the South followed suit.
Referring back to Part I of this project, we looked at some of the reasons people gave for not voting. When we look at the 6% who said they did not vote due to ‘registration problems’, or the 2.7% who claimed ‘inconvenient polling place’, or the 2.6% who said they had ‘transportation problems’, perhaps we can understand those reasons. Consider the single mom who is not allowed to take time off work, so she goes to vote after work. The polling station in her neighborhood closed last year, so she now has to take a bus to her new polling place 45 minutes away from where she works. Meanwhile, her children are home alone with nobody to cook their supper, or supervise them. What would you do?
It is obvious that there are some people who do not vote with good reason. We need to find solutions to the barriers for minorities and others who are truly disenfranchised. We also need to find ways to inspire and motivate those who make excuses not to vote, to convince them that their vote is important. And we need to make voting more accessible to all. In Part III, we will take a look at some things that may contribute to increasing the numbers of people who vote. There is no single panacea, but I believe there are a number of things that can be done at the federal and state levels, as well as by people like me and you, people who care about our country. Stay tuned …
This is Part II of a 3-part project on Voters not Voting. Part III will look at some things that can be done to help solve the problem and get people to the polls on November 6th.