Why don’t we vote?


Simon Silverberg

2015 is a type of year known as an off-year US elections. Odd number years feature no Congressional elections, apart from special elections, and no Presidential elections. In 2015, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky will hold gubernatorial elections. And if trends hold we can expect a relatively meager voter turnout for these non-Presidential election year races.

Though voter turnout for Presidential election years is routinely higher than that of midterm years, the percentage of voting age adults who cast ballots for President never approaches full voter participation. A University of Florida Professor calculated the percentage of “voting eligible population” (does not include voting-age adults who are non-citizens or those not legally able to vote) who vote, and the United States has not seen a voter turnout of over 70% since the 1800s. Although the election of 2008 saw the largest percentage, at 57%, of eligible voters going to the polls since the 1960s, voter turnout for the 2010 midterms reverted back below 40%.

With a large percentage of Americans, sometimes over half, not casting votes in elections, some politicians and state houses have expressed concern over these numbers. In March of this year, President Obama suggested that mandatory voting requirements could offset some of the problems in our government including the influence of money in politics.  While this may seem like an outlandish notion, many nations already have compulsory voting with an estimated 744 million people living in these countries.  Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said, “It’s a shame. We have a democracy, and one of the basic, if not the basic, responsibility of citizens in a democracy is to vote.”

Before the 2014 midterm election, Congress had an approval rating hovering in the low-teens. However, over 90% of Congress was re-elected in that year.  It is quite infuriating to see these numbers, as logically one would assume voters would oust the Representative or Senator they disapprove of. However, there exist faults in the system that enable individual voices to be forgotten.

While it is easy to be cynical and criticize those who do not vote, the process of voting in the United States does not make partaking in democracy an easy task. After California ratified AB1461 on October 10th, 2015, it became only the second state to automatically register voters when they apply to receive or renew their drivers’ licenses.  California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said that “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote” just as we do not have to fill out a form to practice our right to speech or due process.  Furthermore, the fact that voting takes place on a Tuesday only exacerbates the issue of those actually registered to vote getting to polls.

It should be somewhat embarrassing that the nation that prides itself as being the freest in the world holds elections where less than half of its citizens practice their right to vote. Fortunately, we can look to other countries for solutions. Sweden is able to streamline their voting process by having one national election database as opposed to over 13,000 election jurisdictions that exist in the US that are overseen by multiple levels of officials.  And I believe that one of the more practical things to do is follow in the footsteps of Austria, Belgium, France and others by holding elections on holidays or weekends.

The government should act as a body that promotes peoples’ right to vote, not as an obstacle to this right. While one vote in a country of over 300 million citizens may not seem like much, what that vote represents, those who died for such a right, and those around the world who would die for such a right, makes it all the more essential to ensure that every citizen can effectively practice their rights in this democracy.

[Image Credit: http://i1.wp.com/quietmike.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/voting.jpg ]