Earlier today, I wrote a piece about young people, millennials if you wish, and their reasons excuses for not voting in next week’s election. I also noted that according to the article in New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, just over half of adults plan to vote. I did a bit of research and found that the last time more than half of eligible voters actually turned out to vote in a mid-term election was 1914, just after the beginning of World War I! According to the PEW Research Center …
The United States’ turnout in national elections lags behind other democratic countries with developed economies, ranking 26th out of 32 among peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Folks … this is pathetic! Just under 56% of eligible voters in the U.S. cast ballots in the 2016 election!
A number of the countries with the highest percentage of voter turnout have compulsory voting, which is a complex topic for another day, but something to think about.
According to an article in the New York Times …
Perhaps the most significant change has been in who votes. Unlike in the 19th century, voter turnout is now highly correlated with class. More than 80 percent of Americans with college degrees vote compared with about 40 percent of Americans without high school degrees, according to Jonathan Nagler, a political scientist at New York University and co-author of a 2014 book, “Who Votes Now.”
Last night, I read an interesting, fairly lengthy report by Center For American Progress about ways in which we might be able to increase voter participation in the U.S. It is well worth the read if you have time. In short, the report lists some of the reasons for low voter turnout, and also some recommendations for encouraging voter participation by making the process simpler:
- Streamline voter registration with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration (SDR),11 preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and online voter registration
- Make voting more convenient with in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and vote-at-home with vote centers
- Provide sufficient resources in elections and ensure voting is accessible
- Restore rights for formerly incarcerated people
- Strengthen civics education in schools
- Invest in integrated voter engagement (IVE) and outreach
I agree, but it should be duly noted that all disenfranchisement laws and voter suppression tools are barriers that must be removed.
America’s representative government is warped by low voter participation, and, of those who do vote, the group is not representative of the broader population [emphasis added] of eligible American citizens. Research shows that communities of color, young people, and low-income Americans are disproportionately burdened by registration barriers, inflexible voting hours, and polling place closures, making it more difficult for these groups to vote. Participation gaps persist along racial, educational, and income-level differences.
Remember how hard African-Americans fought for the right to cast a ballot? Remember poll taxes and tests? In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving non-white men and freed male slaves the right to vote, but almost immediately the southern states began taking that right away via a series of Jim Crow laws. It would be another 95 years until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave African-Americans the right to vote. Blood was shed in the fight to earn this right. Do the names James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and Medgar Evers ring any bells? Each gave their lives in the fight for the vote. How do you imagine those who fought the good fight would feel if they heard somebody say, as Clara Bender of Madison, West Virginia, said …
“I just never got into it. I got married, had babies — just never had the time.”
And do you realize that it was less than 100 years ago – 1920, to be exact – that the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, giving women the right to vote? There are women alive today who remember when women couldn’t vote. What do you think Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would have to say to Megan Davis of Rhode Island, who says …
“I feel like my voice doesn’t matter. People who suck still are in office, so it doesn’t make a difference.”
There is one and only one valid reason for a person age 18 or older not to vote, and that is that he or she has been disenfranchised in some way by state laws. Gerrymandering, restrictive voter ID laws, shortened polling hours, lack of no-excuse absentee voting, polling places closed, voters given incorrect information, voters restricted by living in rural areas, and the list of tricks the states have up their sleeves is endless. Anybody … ANYBODY who is not affected by disenfranchisement, else in a coma, has not only the right, but the DUTY to vote! Sorry, folks, but it is one day every two years, and takes a matter of minutes. Don’t like the country being ruled by the very filthy rich? If you don’t vote, you caused it. Don’t like the way your tax money is being spent? If you didn’t vote, it’s your own damn fault. Those who fail to vote may very well be contributing to a future that none of us want.