In Two weeks ago, we looked at the reasons people give for not voting, and in last Wednesday’s post, we looked at the demographics … who isn’t voting, and why. When we put those two together, we see why some people aren’t voting, for the system is designed to make it difficult for them. In this, the final post on voters not voting, we will look at some ways to effect change. There are actually three distinct groups of non-voters: those who are at least partly disenfranchised, for whom the system has made voting a difficult task, those who are either too lazy or apathetic to stir themselves to vote. The solutions are different for each of these groups, so we need to look at them separately. But first, a disclaimer. There is no panacea, no simple, single solution that will all of a sudden solve the problem of nearly half the eligible voters failing to vote. We must find a multitude of small steps that all contribute toward bringing us closer to the goal.
The first step in the process of voting is to register. At present, the onus for registering lies solely with the voter. Every state’s registration rules are a bit different. In 37 states, one can register online, but in the other 13, registration must be done in person. For many, this means taking time off work, and possibly difficulties finding transportation. Online registration is a great idea, but it needs to be made well-known to all, for many are not aware that it is possible, or how to begin the process.There are ways to remind people: workplaces and churches could place posters reminding people to register and listing places, such as DMV as well as the website. Schools could send home flyers reminding parents to register. And to be really proactive, districts could mail registration forms to all homes in the district. Another, even better idea is automatic registration, such as is used in countries like Canada and Germany where voter turnout rates are in the 90 percentile range. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, and 19 states have introduced automatic registration proposals in 2018. In addition, the New Jersey Legislature passed automatic voter registration on April 12th, and the bill is awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature.”
Registration may well be half the battle and some combination of the above ideas would likely have a significant impact on voter turnout.
This group consists of people who are typically lower income or minorities, for whom just getting through the day and feeding their family is hard. State regulations have made the process of voting harder for these people by closing polling stations in their neighborhoods, shortening the hours of polling stations, and requiring a driver’s license or other state-issued identification that they may not have. The solution is simple, right? But with the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is no longer a requirement for federal oversight, and the states are largely free to do whatever they want, within certain boundaries. Section 5 needs desperately to be reinstated, but that will not likely happen soon, if ever. Meanwhile?
With a republican majority in Congress, it is unlikely that legislation to help make voting easier for the disenfranchised would fly, for those it would benefit are more likely to vote for a democrat. One partial solution is what happened in Pennsylvania recently, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s district map must be re-drawn in order to be more fair. The ruling was unsuccessfully challenged by republican lawmakers, and the map has been redrawn. While gerrymandered maps are not technically a barrier to voting, in the sense that they may cause polling stations to be farther from a person’s home or workplace and thus require greater travel time, the reality is that they can be a barrier. I would like to see the Supreme Courts in every state follow the lead of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
One thing that many of us can do is actually help people get to their polling places. There are many volunteers who spend the entire election day driving elderly people and others without transportation to and from the polling stations. A reader of this blog left me this comment when I first published this post in April 2018:
“I have a listing of homeowners and rental units in the town in which I live..and together with other “ladies” from the Resist Movement in OK, go door to door and hand out voter registration papers..we will offer to assist in filling them out, and we then offer a ride to the polling places on voting days. You’d be amazed how many do not vote because they thought they “weren’t allowed to vote” after having misdemeanor convictions!”
I just wanted to hug this lady!!! She is doing something to make the world a better place, and to her, my thumbs are all up!
Other measures that have proven helpful in getting voters to the polls include:
- Early voting, which allows any qualified voter to cast a ballot during a specified period prior to the actual election day.
- Absentee voting, whereby voters may request an absentee ballot and return it either by mail or in person, with or without an excuse. Presently, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow absentee voting without needing an excuse, 20 others require an excuse.
- All-mail voting, where a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary). Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado currently use all-mail voting. Funny story about this … I periodically make comments to my girls about projects I am working on, usually unsolicited and out of the blue. As I was working on this one, I asked the girls if they were aware that 3 states actually had all-mail voting. Daughter Chris’ jaw dropped to the ground, thinking I meant “all-male” voting!
Those who are simply either too lazy, don’t care, don’t like the candidates, or believe that it is a lost cause, may be the most challenging to get to the polls. To do so will require a plethora of different things, starting with voter education, and involving large amounts of motivating and inspiring techniques. Unfortunately, these constitute the largest group, some 65% of all the non-voters. This translates into roughly 58.2 million people!
While I personally believed … still believe … that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president, I admit that she came with some baggage, and was not a particularly ‘lovable’ candidate, did not run an inspired campaign. Thus, in 2016, it is understandable that many did not like either candidate. But how to convince these people that it is better to vote for the lesser of two evils than to simply shrug their shoulders and stay at home watching television?
I think the starting point must be in education. According to Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University in New York City, it is up to parents and teachers to stress just how important it is. Common sense, yes?
I don’t know the answers, but somehow we must find ways to convince these 58.2 million people that their vote counts, that they make a difference, but not sitting home on their patooties. Talk to friends who say they don’t care. Join a volunteer group that is going door-to-door talking to people. Sport a t-shirt with your favourite candidate (I still wear my Obama t-shirt!!!), put a bumper sticker on your car. Help people to better understand the issues, the candidates.
A recent quote I saw in the New York Times seems apropos:
To many African-American voters in Alabama, Cecil said, “Donald Trump is the living embodiment of the idea that voting doesn’t matter.” Trump is profoundly unfit to be a president — a congenital liar and racist who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. And yet president he is.
This is, I think, one of the biggest hurdles, and while I disagree with the thought process, I understand it.
Given our current system, we will not likely achieve 90% turnout, but I think we can damn well do better than 56%, especially given that those who voted in 2016 were a majority of wealthy, white people, leaving behind a large portion of the citizens, equally important citizens, of this nation. Because of the results, we have all but lost our voice in our government. Sure, you can write and call your members of Congress, but I haven’t had a personalized response yet, and I’m never even sure if they hear, but I’m sure they don’t care. Until November 3rd, and then they will care. We must send a message, but in order to do so, we all need to speak. Let’s help make sure more people vote this year. Let’s all do a few things within our own circle of friends, family & neighbors:
- Make sure they are registered. If they aren’t offer to help with filling out forms, taking them to register if they cannot do so online.
- Help them understand the issues and what each candidate stands for.
- Keep talking about how very important it is that everyone get out and vote, without necessarily pushing a specific candidate.
- Volunteer to drive people to the polling stations on November 3rd.
It is up to We The People, for we cannot rely on the government to work toward increasing voter turnout. We need some new blood … let’s make it happen, folks!