On Friday, I cast my early vote. As promised, I cast my vote for Rocky Anderson. Not as a write in though, because he did get on the ballot in Florida which means he will get more votes than he otherwise would. This is a good thing, but does not significantly change the outcome of the election.
The effects of early voting are important, and certainly make it easier for voters to find time to get to the polls. However, it does not appear to actually increase voter participation. This is a shame, but is sadly predictable. America, for all our claims of being a staunch democracy loving people, are not and never have been strongly devoted to participating in that democracy. By and large, we are really a nation of whiners. (Ack! Did I just question another great American myth?! Aye, I did.) We love to complain, but when it comes to actually solving the problems, well, lets let someone else see about that, shall we? Oh, wait! What about those damn inconvenient facts again?
Between 1960 and 1995, there were 38 other democracies (of various forms) around the world that had higher voter participation rates than America’s 48% average. You know, such renowned democracies as Poland (51%), Czech Republic (85%), Argentina (83%) and Malta (94%).
We are constantly pushing to increase our voter turnout, and yet, honestly, we have always had very low voter participation. By combining data from the US Census Bureau’s 1980 report Nonvoting Americans and The American Presidency Project, we can construct a picture that, while accurate, is really not flattering. American voter participation in presidential elections, even when limited to a very small group of extremely privileged individuals, was, well, to be blunt, piss poor. It’s even worse in non-presidential elections. We have no data for elections prior to 1828, but for those elections between 1828 and 1864 the average voter participation rate was 27.01% of the eligible population. That is not of all Americans. That is of those eligible to vote. When we look at the winner and percentage that he won of the vote, the average president during this period was preferred by only 13.44% of the eligible population that chose to express themselves at the ballot. That’s really pathetic.
The period following the Civil War from 1868 to 1916 was not much better, with an average participation rate of 33.4%, giving the victor a mandate from only 18.8% of eligible voters.
We are essentially in the heyday of our voting right now. This is a sad, sad statement, and yet, since 1920, our voter participation has been 42.5% and above which is higher than at any time before 1920. The average is 54.5%, and the victor averages 29.15% approval from eligible voters on Election Day.
While those are still pathetic numbers, they do represent a trend higher than when we started this country.
So, why don’t people vote? Lack of interest, turned off by the negativity, too much effort, for some they can’t get to the polling stations at given times, etc. For some, they just don’t care, and nothing is going to change that.
It has been suggested that Election Day should be a national holiday. I would absolutely support that! This really gets back to one of the core issues that we have. It may be a more wide spread issue in Western culture. I believe it is, but I’ll confine myself to speaking to only Americans on this. We are all too quick to scream for our rights, and far too slow to recognize our responsibilities. We see this in so many aspects of our daily lives, but specifically in relation to our civic lives, we demand our constitutional rights to free speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom of religion, right to a trial by jury, etc, and yet we shirk our responsibilities so quickly and as much as possible.
Very few of us are eager to serve jury duty. When we get the summons, it is a burden. Instead of recognizing and accepting that it is the responsibility that comes with the right to a trial by jury. It is the necessary duty that some members of our society must be constantly filling in order that those rights be fully granted. Instead of reveling in our right to vote and seeing it as a duty, a privilege or an honor, almost half of us see it as a burden to be avoided.
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