There are multiple reasons for the embarrassingly low percentage of those eligible to vote who actually vote regularly in elections in the United States. There are things the federal government could do to encourage those who have chosen not to vote to exercise their franchise short of mandating that everyone vote in every election, but that won’t be considered until Republicans no longer have control in Washington.
Why is in necessary for us to register to vote in the first place? We have already given the federal government all the information they need (except for party choice) by applying for a Social Security card, something every parent has had to do for their children since at least 1980. There is no logical reason not to have national automatic voter registration in this country. The right to vote is written into the constitution. The federal government certainly knows enough about everyone in the country in order to add everyone eligible to vote onto the voter rolls on their eighteenth birthday and then share those registrations with the states where the individuals reside. The only ‘reason’ there appears to be for requiring individuals to register separately to vote is to put another roadblock in the way of those trying to vote.
In countries like Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Iraq (yes, Iraq!), voting participation increased between 76% and 81% once automated registration took effect. In a liberal (vs illiberal) democracy, the goal should be to get as many eligible voters as possible to get involved and cast an informed vote; automatic registration is the first step towards higher voter participation and engagement.
The Republicans, however, know that the demographic group that has been most likely to register and vote with them is aging and leaving this mortal coil. Polls show that only 25% of eligible voters align with the Republicans, 31% with the Democrats, and 40% with Independents. Therefore, from the point of view of the Republican Party, encouraging a larger percentage of the eligible voter pool to cast a vote is demographically counter to their purposes. This is a major factor in the Republicans continued hold on power despite having a minority throughout the country as a whole, since fewer voters overall (of which 71% would NOT be Republicans) gives them a disproportionate share of votes cast.
This leads to the outrageous lies being made by the President of the United States spewing conspiracy theories about the security of mail-in ballots. Trump continues to claim for no reason except to scare his own base away from using mail-in ballots that there will be wide-spread fraud. First of all, there was a recent report from the conservative Heritage Foundation that found just 14 instances out of 15.5 million votes. Secondly, the most recent and egregious case of someone using mail-in ballots to commit voter fraud involved a Republican campaign operative in North Carolina. Third and most disturbing, there are actually thousands of mail-in ballots that are deemed ineligible compared with a minimum of in-person ballots, often for mistakes made by the voter or because of a questionable signature match. In order to have fewer legitimate votes disallowed, rules and regulations about verification of these ballots should be standardized across the country.
After Joe Biden is sworn into office in January, 2021, it would behoove all of us to do whatever we can to push for making it easier to participate in the electoral process throughout the country, in addition to all the other things needed to undo voter suppression and gerrymandering Republicans have used since the Nixon administration to keep those not voting for them from exercising their franchise.
The media has to step up, too. Media outlets not specifically designed to propagate right-wing disinformation and talking points must get off of their ‘both-sides’ soapbox. There is nothing consistent with fair coverage that requires any news outlet to give on-air time to anyone from either side when what they are saying isn’t even true. The opinions of party sycophants are of no importance, nor is their outrage at perceived offenses outside of the right-wing media bubble. If those on the ‘conservative’ side of the aisle cannot provide actual subject matter experts who have serious, fact-based information to bring to the discussion, they should not be provided with a platform from which to spread their crap. Climate change, for instance, isn’t a matter of opinion – it is happening, and it is man-made, and anyone who claims anything different without providing science-based hard evidence for their conclusion should no longer be offered the chance to speak. Ditto for those who want to argue about systemic racism, Covid-19, or any other subject which has been scientifically investigated and understood.
I think it should be mandatory for everyone eligible to vote to do so, but in order for that to be an accepted demand, it is also necessary for every obstacle currently placed between the eligible and the ballot be torn down. Automatic voter registration, Election Day as a national holiday and country-wide mail-in ballots would go a long way towards giving more of our fellow citizens the chance to vote without losing time from work, finding a babysitter, looking for a ride, or any one of thousands other reasons why everyone who can do so does not cast a vote.
The presidency and administration of Donald Trump should have opened the eyes of everyone, whether they have previously voted or not, of the importance for everyone to get informed and cast their vote. Everyone has something that they care about, whether it’s climate change, taxes, election security, money in politics, etc., and the only way to make sure that your government knows how you feel about those things is to vote. Social media could be a force for good, but not as it is currently configured. Print media has suffered mightily in this digital age, and broadcast media has been maligned for real and imagined offenses, making it the individual responsibility of every American to find actual facts about candidates, issues and policies from reputable sources upon which to base political choices.
This country has so much potential to life up to (sort of like both of my former husbands). It’s up to each and every one of us to put our big person pants on and do that which is required of every citizen – learn about the issues, decide which side of the issue you agree with, and vote in every election for candidates whose platforms and plans are what you hope to see going forward.
Vote as if your very future depends on the outcome of every election. Vote as if the life your children and grandchildren will be living will be determined by the election winner. Vote as if the continued existence of the very planet we all live on will be controlled by the next office holder.
It should be painfully obvious by now how very true that is.