The Turnout Issue
In America, we’ve decided that democracy is such a fantastic system that we’re willing to invade other countries to protect it. We hear politicians voice their opinions on everything, but they hardly talk about the system that we use to elect them. It’s one of those things in politics that you simply can’t challenge. The only time when politicians really discuss the voting system is when they’re introducing voter ID laws. Although those laws attempt to fix a problem that the US doesn’t have, voter fraud, proponents of those laws believe they make sense because they’re protecting the sanctity of democracy. But the system is indeed very flawed.
In terms of developed countries, the United States’ voter turnout is terrible. According to Pew, we rank 30th out of 34. In 2012, 53.6% of adults in the United States voted in the presidential election. This means that our representative democracy isn’t representing everyone. This has been talked about a little bit in the current presidential race. Many states have exclusionary policies preventing people from casting their vote. Caucuses only represent a very select group of people, some closed primaries make it impossible to vote, and some states don’t even have a primary or caucus.
But all of these things can be remedied. Many countries make voting compulsory and impose a fine on the people that don’t. If we started doing this, even the people that aren’t very involved in politics would be forced to vote. Voting day should also become a holiday. People wouldn’t have to work on the day of their state’s primary, and also on the day of the general election in order to make voting accessible to more people.
We also need to work towards making a primary system that actually makes sense. Some states don’t have primaries, some are winner-take-all, and some don’t make their delegates vote for the person they said they would. All of the details about primaries may be too hard to standardize, but we can at least eliminate caucuses. Caucuses have notoriously low voter turnout, and they favor a certain group of people. The people that attend caucuses are typically people that are very passionate about their candidate, and can spend a couple hours in the middle of the day caucusing. Bernie Sanders tends to do well in caucus states, because his supporters are very passionate. This kind of practice doesn’t give an equal voice to all voters. Your vote shouldn’t matter more based on how much you care about your candidate.
Our voter turnout isn’t bad just because people are lazy, but the problem sometimes starts months before the election. To participate in the New York primary, you had to register to vote for one party six months in advance. Not following the presidential election a year in advance? Too bad. Don’t want to register to a party? Tough luck. Some states have found an easy solution to this issue: automatic registration. Oregon and California have already started to automatically register eligible citizens, making life easier for everybody. New York is arguably the most extreme in terms of closed primaries. Their primary excludes people that aren’t affiliated with a major party, and new voters that aren’t following the election very closely. This system caused many people to miss their opportunity to vote, and if New York followed the lead of other states, that wouldn’t have to happen again.
Democracy is a system that inherently makes sense. The decision for the group should be made by the group. In the United States we have a lot of kinks in the system, but they’re all kinks that can be easily fixed.