To Vote or Not to Vote

Mary Ann Moxon, Public Relations/Outreach

Why do Americans choose to vote—or choose not to exercise that most basic right? And how do we as League members help to reduce the divide between voters and nonvoters?

Mediocre voter turnout has become the trend in America despite warnings that “democracy is not a spectator sport.” Voter turnout in the U.S. is among the lowest in the world, having declined sharply since 1900. Many people consciously choose to stay on the sidelines of democracy; others find formidable obstacles to exercising their right to vote.

Reasons are many: people say they are too busy, don’t like their choices or don’t know enough to vote. Many are focused on getting to work or paying their rent. In many states voter ID restrictions keep people from voting. Too many do not realize that midterm elections also carry enormous political stakes. For example, governors and state legislators elected this fall will determine redistricting decisions following the 2020 census.

Young first-time voters may show up at the polls on November 6. But many youth are suspicious of politicians and political parties – as are many other citizens. 1914 was the last time that more than half of eligible voters turned out for a midterm election. Only 33 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterms; among18-29-year-olds about 20 percent cast a ballot. Polls focused on “likely voters” predict that just 37 percent of young voters will vote in the upcoming midterms.

There is a “renaissance of political engagement” among some Americans experiencing a new civic spirit—calling their elected officials more often, marching in opposition to or in support of causes, donating money, running for office and joining organizations such as the League of Women Voters. Partisan and racial gerrymandering has energized many voters in Virginia and other states where voters are demanding that they pick their legislators, rather than legislators picking their voters through gerrymandered district lines.

The League of Women Voters, NAACP, numerous churches, campus groups like Vote21 and political parties have worked to register voters for the fall elections. On National Voter Registration Day, September 25, a record 800,000 new voters registered. But far surpassing that is the number of voters who have been purged from voting rolls in many states or barriers imposed to reduce participation at the polls.

So what can League members do to further our mission to Empower Voters and Defend Democracy? Encourage friends and family to be informed voters by seeking opportunities to hear directly from candidates. Promote the League’s online resource, Vote411.org, where voters can compare candidates’ responses to questions. Offer to assist in getting voters to the polls. Work to reduce onerous ID requirements. Long-term, support making Election Day a national holiday. And to those cynics, who believe that their one vote does not matter, remind them that a tie election in 2017 saw the Virginia House of Delegates majority determined by the drawing of a name.

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