Voting is a system that is imperative for upholding the democratic system that our nation so proudly holds. While in local elections and the ones for the senate and the house, the candidate wins by popular vote, the presidential election is by the electoral college. The electoral college consists of 538 electors, and the amount of them varies according to state population. When citizens vote, they give the electors insight into what the majority wants and tell them which way to vote. The number of electoral votes to win the presidential election is 270.” The candidate with the most popular votes wins all the electoral votes of that state. Every state except for Maine and Nebraska (who split their electoral votes) uses this “all or nothing” rule.”1At the same time, most of the time, electors follow what the majority wants, there is still a chance that the electors still need to vote in that manner, but this is very rare. It is also important to remember that this process benefits smaller states because they have more power than they would if we operated by the popular vote system. A significant problem in the U.S. involves people not participating in our voting system. According to the Pew Research Center, “when comparing turnout among the voting-age population in the 2020 presidential election against recent national elections in 49 other countries, the U.S. ranks 31st’’2The U.S. has a massive problem with voting participation, and steps must be taken to fix this predicament.
So the big question is, “Why is voter turnout so low?” While this question cannot be answered with a straightforward answer, there are various reasons why a good portion of the United States feels such high levels of voter apathy.
Voting can be hard to access- To vote in America; citizens are required to have a government-issued id to vote; this can cause issues for people who still need to get one or people who are low-income, older, and people of color. While it may seem like everyone has a photo id, this is untrue because “21 million Americans” don’t have one3.
Another issue that makes voting inaccessible is that the voting day is on Tuesdays, so people who have to work and can’t afford to take time off to vote are disadvantaged. These people are often in lower economic situations because the people that can take time off to vote have more financial freedom. It’s also important to remember that some people don’t have transportation to vote, are disabled, and don’t have childcare. In some situations, voting polls are too far from people’s houses and need to be spread out more evenly.
While there are barriers to getting to the place to vote, often many issues occur at voting sites, like long lines, finding out abruptly that they are at the wrong voting location, standing out in the elements without access to water, and sometimes the ballots have complications. All these issues can be very discouraging, and with other voting issues, people can feel pessimistic and give up. Voting should be a process that is easy to participate in.
A good portion of Americans feels they need to be educated more about politics and the government and understand the importance of voting and how much action our country can take. This lack of information involving politics is discouraging and causes people to not vote because they do not want to make uninformed decisions.
Many citizens don’t vote just because they distrust the government and are aware of the various poor decisions and discriminatory acts they have made towards multiple minority groups. They feel it is immoral to participate in a system that hurts others.
One issue that ties into this is gerrymandering because since many Americans are aware of it, it is leading to increased distrust in the government. Gerrymandering is a process in which politicians intentionally re-district congressional districts so that the population in each region will end up favoring the candidates that fit the preferred party. This increases the power of political parties and is a deceitful aspect of the voting system. The two main ways gerrymandering happens are through packing and cracking. Cracking is described as splitting groups of people with similar interests into various districts, so the importance of their vote decreases. However, packing is when they put a massive amount of similar groups of people into a few districts where they likely will have the majority. Still, then everywhere else, their power is minuscule. This decreases the likelihood of the minority power getting a fair shot at having a congressman representing their opinions and values. Many people claim that gerrymandering is a process that republicans only do, but we can see instances of this occurring in the hands of both parties.
Disenfranchisement policies-“Maine and Vermont remain the only states that allow persons in prison to vote. Twenty-six U.S. states deny voting rights to people on felony-level probation or parole. In the most extreme cases, 11 states continue to deny voting rights to some or all of the individuals who have successfully fulfilled their prison, parole, or probation sentences.’’4 While there are opportunities to regain your right to vote, the idea of ever losing it in the first place is problematic to some.” Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of white Americans. Latinx individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the incarceration rate of whites .”5 A significant percentage of the prison population is black and Latino, affecting said groups more harshly. There are barriers to the black and Latino vote a less obvious method provides more nuance to the issues black people face when voting. It is essential to consider the discrimination minorities face in other sectors and how those can often bleed over into other sectors. Often African Americans and Latinx people are disproportionately put in jail for crimes that other races may get a fine for or are sometimes criminalized for crimes they didn’t commit. However, concerning voting, some restrictions prevent criminals from voting. Since the criminal system often targets minorities, the voting system is tainted by racism since criminal convictions are an aspect of whether or not people can vote.
The effects of voter suppression and general apathy towards voting, causing fewer people to vote, are detrimental because it simply means the voice of all the people isn’t being heard. This decreased civil engagement makes our democracy increasingly less democratic. It is also essential to recognize that white people vote more than minorities and rich people more than poor. So this voter disinterest is predominately affecting communities that are often hit harder by government policies and groups who have, throughout history, not been given access to voting. So, in turn, laws and bills could be implemented targeting minorities, and because of voter suppression, they don’t have a fair shot at countering this. These issues also cause continued pessimistic feelings toward the government and voting system because the more politicians use sneaky tactics to get desired results, the more people distrust the government and this, in turn, leads to even less voting. Low voter turnout means that elections won by specific candidates could have had a different fate if more people had shown up. So it skews whom we have in the office and causes inaccurate representation.
Increased education about the government and the voting process can significantly help reduce the high and low voter turnout rates because many people don’t understand how much their vote matters, so this would solve that issue. People who don’t vote because they feel they need to be educated enough could also benefit from this. This need for increased education can span from having government classes having a requirement to teach in dept about the voting process to more pamphlets being issued about the topic.
To combat gerrymandering, we could give states “the responsibility for drawing voting districts over to independent commission.”6This would ensure there would be less risk of the majority party in specific areas creating strange boundaries.
More money being given to the voting ‘’industry’’ would cause fewer complications at the polls, and experienced workers would be implemented more. This would lead to shorter lines, fewer ballot predicaments, and more polling locations.
Looser voter id laws would solve the issue of people being denied the right to vote because of the specifics of their identification.
Fewer restrictions on people convicted of a crime would increase the number of people available to vote and decrease the number of people of color not having voting rights. The article “Colorblind” policy in black and white: racial consequences of disenfranchisement policy” discusses how “there is no proof that criminals would make bad decisions when voting and that restricting voting only deprives people of the right to have a say in their government and participate in the democratic process.”7Since criminals having the right to vote wouldn’t destroy our system, a solution would be lifting this restriction on a federal level.
- Sussman, Emily Tisch. “The Electoral College, Explained for Kids.” Parents, Parents, 17 Aug. 2020, https://www.parents.com/kids/education/the-electoral-college-explained-for-kids/.
- DeSilver, Drew. “Turnout in U.S. Has Soared in Recent Elections but by Some Measures Still Trails That of Many Other Countries.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 1 Nov. 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/11/01/turnout-in-u-s-has-soared-in-recent-elections-but-by-some-measures-still-trails-that-of-many-other-countries/.
- “5 Reasons People in the US DON’T VOTE.” Global Citizen, 2 Sept. 2020, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/why-people-dont-vote/.
- Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson. “Locked out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights.” The Sentencing Project, 23 Nov. 2022, https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/locked-out-2022-estimates-of-people-denied-voting-rights/.
- Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.” The Sentencing Project, 1 Nov. 2022, https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/the-color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons-the-sentencing-project/.
- Kamarck, Elaine. “Gerrymandering and How to Fix It.” Brookings, Brookings, 9 Mar. 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/unpacked/2018/02/02/gerrymandering-and-how-to-fix-it/.
- Ochs, Holona Leanne. “Colorblind” Policy in Black and White: Racial Consequences of … 2006, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242217974_Colorblind_Policy_in_Black_and_White_Racial_Consequences_of_Disenfranchisement_Policy.