We can’t get Americans to the polls without fixing the system

The Channels Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL



For Republicans and Democrats alike, the United States appears to be going to the dogs.

Whether it’s those on the left, who say Donald Trump is making America the laughingstock of the world, or those on the right, who say immigrants are stealing jobs and freeloading off of our country’s generosity, few who understand the issues are satisfied with the status quo.

Our home is going up in flames, and it remains likely that millions of people won’t vote in the upcoming midterm election. With so much hinging on the results of the election, the question on everyone’s mind is “Why do so many people not vote?” And if they did vote, would it really change anything?

Chances are, it would. Substantially.

One of the major reasons Trump won was not because he was successful in energizing voters (he actually received less votes than all the Republican candidates in the last three presidential elections), but because Democrats stayed home.

Hillary Clinton received six million fewer voters than Barack Obama did in 2012, and 10 million less votes than he did in 2008. The popular complaint is to blame the third party candidates for their candidate losing, but when only about 56 percent of the voting-age population casts a ballot, the people who don’t vote are the ones we should be pointing at.

Young people tend to have the most trouble voting. In the 2014 midterm election, 80 percent of people aged 18-29 failed to vote. It boggles the mind how much potential voting power we are failing to exert with these tens of millions of votes, most of which would likely go towards Democrats.

In January, the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of registered Millennials (who are 22-37 year-olds in 2018) are leaning Democratic. But if we just stay home on Election Day, politicians won’t take Democratic youth issues — from affordable college education to abortion rights and universal background checks on guns — seriously.

We recognize, though, that the problem goes deeper than mere apathy or laziness. Despite the rhetoric of how America is the most democratic nation on earth, a study by the Pew Research Center suggests that many people don’t vote in our country because of inherent, widespread flaws in our country’s voting system. It found that the U.S. had the seventh worst voter turnout in the most recent national elections of 32 highly industrialized, democratic countries, with Mexico and Slovakia placing higher than us.

If we want more people to vote, perhaps we should be looking more at system changes, rather than condemning the rebellious nature of youths.

There are some obvious changes that could make a major difference. Sweden and Germany (who also score much higher than America does in voter turnout), automatically register their eligible voters. It is estimated that in the 2008 election, four to five million voters did not cast a ballot because they encountered registration problems or failed to receive absentee ballots, so this alone might increase voter turnout substantially.

Voters in places like Georgia, which has been slammed with controversy over its voter registration laws that disproportionately affect Democrats and people of color, would also not have to fear that their governor will suddenly take them off the ballot for “invalid” voter registrations.

Many people don’t like being forced to vote on a work day, either. France and Japan hold their Election Day vote on the weekend. Both have higher voter turnout than the U.S.

It should also be common sense that places with higher voter participation tend to be places where people regularly engage with the political process, instead of just during election season. We can’t expect people to suddenly feel their civic duty course through their veins at election time when they haven’t engaged with the issues for most of the year.

Ultimately, the best thing we can do in the short-term is to get out the vote. Knock on those doors, make those phone calls, and start dragging your friends to the polls. If people took even a fraction of the energy they put into complaining on their social media accounts into taking real actions to make positive change, our representative democracy would be that much stronger.

Voting gives us a say, however small, in who has positions of power in our country, and we shouldn’t throw this opportunity away.

In other words, please vote. You’ll regret it if you don’t.