Voter Apathy Hasn’t Changed in 30 Years and Neither Has the Reason Why

Tuesday , 14, July 2015 Leave a comment

In an editorial published in the New York Times on November 25, 1988, entitled, “One Reason Voters Didn’t Vote”, the argument was made that people stayed home simply because they weren’t registered to vote.

According to a New York Times/CBS News post-election survey, they tended to be younger, poorer and less educated than voters.
Why didn’t they vote? Seventeen percent didn’t care or were too busy; 13 percent disliked the candidates. These numbers suggest apathy and dismay. But the largest group, 37 percent, said they didn’t vote because they weren’t registered. And the great majority of those said they would have voted if they could simply have showed up at the polls on Election Day.

Out of the people surveyed after the 1988 presidential election, over a third said they stayed home because they had to register in order to vote. In 1988 the results of allowing same day registration would have increased voter turnout by 13 million people nationwide.

Same day registration is currently available in thirteen states, which includes North Dakota where no registration is required at all to vote. Michigan does not have same day voter registration, and according to the report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, Same day voter registration generates an increased voter turnout by ten to fourteen percent. Fewer provisional ballots are cast, which means more savings for state election agencies. Michigan requires anyone wanting to vote in an election must register 30 days before Election Day. This practice ensures fewer people vote.

The New York Times editorial goes on to suggest that simplifying voter registration would increase voter turnout.

… Simpler rules would add as many as 13 million voters to the rolls. It stands to reason, too, that simpler rules would boost turnout among the groups most conspicuously absent from this year’s election – the poor and less educated, who are often deterred by complex procedures; and young people, who are more likely to have moved recently.

Yes, it’s true simplifying the voting process and voter registration makes it easier for more people to vote. What’s interesting about the election of 1988 according to the editorial is that if there had been higher turnout, it would have created a wider margin of victory for George H. W. Bush, not a victory for Michael Dukakis. Trusting the system to work is not in the interest of modern Republicans. State Republican-dominated legislatures have instated voter ID laws, eliminated early voting, and cut the number of polling stations available for people to vote. Gerrymandering of political districts has also ensured that even a majority Democratic vote won’t have much impact on the incumbent Republican holding office. Voter fraud proponents insist voter fraud is so rampant that it’s necessary to make it harder for people to vote. What’s different about now compared to 1988 is that fewer people are voting Republican.

Putting more barriers to voting in place to discourage voter turnout provides clues to the current health of the Republican Party. 28 years ago, another 13 million voters would have made Bush win by 11 percentage points over Dukakis instead of only 8. Today, Republicans work to suppress voter turnout. Why?

The Republican platform currently excludes large blocks of voters. Their most important planks are restricting women’s health care and marriage equality, and education and job policies that make it harder to find work. Right to work laws, eliminating prevailing wage laws, keeping wages low while an elite few spend billions on elections discourage most Americans. They believe they can’t participate fully in the process, so they don’t. This is exactly what the Republican Party wants, because it’s the only way they can maintain their majority in Congress and state level government.

More than ever, it’s important to eliminate barriers to the voting booth for all Americans. In Oregon, all adults 18 and older automatically become registered voters. Vote by mail means every registered voter receives a ballot weeks before Election Day, providing early voting. The voting booth is as close as the mailbox outside the house. More people voting means political parties will have to spend more time actually listening to what the voters are saying, and hopefully less time gold-digging for the richest campaign contributor.

Michigan has a chance to eliminate Republican-initiated barriers to voting by becoming a vote by mail state. It’s time to take that chance and provide access to the voting booth to as many people that want to participate.

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