My father explained it to me this way: Always vote. Because half of Americans don’t vote, each time you do it’s like having two votes.
That’s a bit of a shameful statistic isn’t it? Since the 1970’s less than 60% of eligible voters actually voted during each election cycle. That statistic is getting better though, since the 1990’s voter participation has been rising and may soon reach the level of the 1960 election, 65%. Maybe that’s not much to brag about, but I see any improvement as a good one.
As much as we praise living in a democratic society you would think that we would take voting more seriously. As it turns out there are several factors that may affect why a person votes. Some of the biggest of these is education and socio-economic standing (how well off you are). More educated people are more likely to vote. In the US almost 90% of people with post graduate degrees vote regularly. Where as only 38% of those with little or no high school vote.
Top earners tend to vote more as well, nearly 68% of the top tier of earners in the US vote. Those in the bottom 20% of our population only vote at a rate of 36%. In researching this topic I was surprised and pleased to learn that heredity plays a role in voting. If your parents were regular voters you will be much more likely to vote. It is an easy example to set, and an unqualifiedly good one.
In some countries like Malta, Chile, Austria, and Belgium voter turnout rates are almost always above 90%. The US is 18th on the list of voter participation, with turnout rates that range between 48% and 55% depending on whether it is a Presidential election or not. For “The leader of the free world” we certainly are not a shining example of democratic participation.
On order to increase the likelihood of US citizens voting I believe that there are several improvements that need to be made. The first of which is registration. Countries with automatic or forced registration have much higher turnouts. Our process of registration is a strangely separate voluntary process. Why aren’t voters registered when they are issued a social security card? As soon as they are 18 they should appear on the voting roles and become responsible for change of address notification. Even that information could come from their tax returns.
The second change I’d like to see is making voting more convenient. Instead of designated poling places I’d like to see electronic voting utilizing a system that would let voters vote from anywhere and check their own voting history. I know many are concerned that this kind of system might be “cheated” but the ability to check your own voting record would pretty much eliminate that.
There are countries that make voting compulsory, like Australia, but I think the choice not to vote is a fair one. Although, to be honest I’ve never seen the reasoning behind it. Perhaps it would be smarter to have a “None of the above” choice on all ballots so at least the disillusioned and disgruntled could be counted. Right now, not voting has no discernible effect at all.
Well, to get back to my father’s theory, there is one effect that not voting has, it gives people who do vote more power. Thinking about the stunning amount of partisanship during this election and some of the wild and crazy claims made during the race, that should give non-voter’s pause. Do we really want to give more power to the hyper-partizan say anything to get their candidate elected voters?