In arguably one of the most important elections for the direction of our country, the bid for the U.S presidency (2016), why did over 40% of eligible voters chose to stay home from the polls? Compared to other countries such as Belgium with a 87.2% voter turnout rate, and Sweden with a 82.6% rate, the United States is far behind in voter turnout. In fact, it is not even in the top 25 countries despite being considered one of the most democratic nations in the world. From people’s tight schedule to strict voting laws, there are many reasons why some will still fail to cast their vote for their president in 2020.
Voting turnout has a deeply knit relationship with history. It wasn’t until 1870 that the 15th amendment enabled African American suffrage, and in 1920 that white women gained the right to vote. Beyond that, Reconstruction in the South created grandfather laws and instituted poll taxes that continued to plague the Supreme Court throughout the 1900s. It wasn’t until 1964 during the Civil Rights Era that poll taxes were legally abolished by the 24th Amendment. Today, while most restrictive laws have been deemed unconstitutional, a few still exist such as strict voter ID laws and lengthy registration processes. However, even with most historical restrictions lifted, 55.2 million voters still failed to go out and exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
Many state governments impose strict voting registration rules that prevent people from voting. For example, New York had to throw out 90,000 voter applications because they were turned in after a deadline, causing the state to have one of worst voter turnouts in the 2016 election. In Arizona, ballot collection (or ballot harvesting) is under threat of being banned, negatively affecting the native American populace who struggle to vote due to lack of transportation and distant polling places. In addition, the USPS is under scrutiny this year after multiple mail centers had sorting machines removed, causing mail-in ballots to take a longer amount of time to reach township clerks. These governmental inefficiencies could lead to large amounts of the voter’s ballots being thrown out. In countries like Chile, however, mandated voter participation and automatic registration solve many of these issues as well as significantly increasing voter turnout.
Why does any of this matter? Some people say that changing the mind of a voter in a different party is less important than getting someone from your party to vote. The truth is they’re absolutely right. With political polarization in our country at an all-time high, it would be difficult to get a Republican to vote for Biden and a Democrat to vote for Trump. What is much easier is to convince a voter that their vote matters. In the primaries, Bernie Sanders focused heavily on getting more young voters (his largest base) to turnout to the polls. Historically, young voters have the poorest turnout rates(only 50%) compared to any other age group; therefore, a large potential to influence the vote could result in just getting them to show up. By just getting people to the voting booth, political parties could flip swing states and claim important electoral votes from “winner take all” states like Michigan.
Voter turnout will be the determining factor in who wins the 2020 United States elections. This year the battleground states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Wisconsin—are all up for grabs. If either candidate can claim the majority vote in most of these states they will have a serious advantage in the Electoral College. That being said, as residents of Michigan, many of our seniors and staff have the chance to fight for their pick in our very own battle ground state. Clear your schedules, do your research, and go vote Eastern, you have the opportunity to leave your footprint in history and influence the next four years of our lives. See you at the polls!