In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, many have drudged up the familiar gripe that America has a voting problem. These complaints are not without warrant, as voter turnout in America has been “declining” for many years, and in 2008 was recorded at 57.1%. However, there is a catch, a catch people overlook because it is a distasteful stain upon the glorious Jeffersonian ideal of democracy: people are stupid. According to the numbers, 57.1% of “eligible voters” turned out- eligible being defined as “a U.S. citizen, with residency, of at least 18 years of age, having registered to vote, and not being a felon.” But among all of the people who fit these qualifications, not all are qualified to vote. Here’s why.
After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 1/3 of respondents in a national geographic poll could not locate Louisiana. 41 percent of over a thousand interviewees in a Newsweek Poll believed that 9/11 was directly funded by Saddam Hussein, and over 50 percent could not locate Saudi Arabia on a map. 70% were unaware that the U.S. had in fact NOT found any WMD’s in Iraq. 29% were aware that there are 9 nuclear armed countries. Only 37% could even give a rough estimate of the DOW JONES average, 43% refrained from even attempting. I could go on with statistics documenting general american stupidity but it digresses from the ultimate point: these people don’t need to be voting.
When you are taking advice on a decision, quality matters much more than quantity. 30 of your college dorm mates may tell you that smoking weed doesn’t have any negative side effects, and one neuro-scientist may list them for you. Ultimately we live in a society where people have the right to vote but often don’t. Why should we incite people who lack the information and expertise to truly weigh in on certain issues to utilize their constitutional right? The fact that 43% of people don’t vote wouldn’t be troubling at all, if 43% of people were unqualified to make an intelligent decision.
The problem is, they are. Or at least, some of them are. Once we have accepted that certain people should be the ones choosing to vote, we can focus on improving the number of those who don’t. To be clear, I am by no means saying we should take away the right to vote from anybody who has it. But as of now they are choosing not to use their vote, and that’s okay. But this is where the numbers become troubling. Let us take, just as a basic and oversimplified identifier of qualification to make an informed vote, education level. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was never formally educated but was incredibly smart. But on the whole, I would wager that a college graduate is at least more qualified or informed of geo-socio-political standings. Currently, approximately 66% of people with some college education elect to vote, and 78% of people who have graduated college actually vote. These numbers are higher than the national average by far, which makes sense logically, but the fact is that they are still pathetically low. Of college graduates- people who have completed four years of higher learning with at least some mandatory governmental or civics class in there SOMEWHERE- 22% of them never actually vote. If we want a vote of “experts” so to speak, we need as many of them as possible. More troubling is the 44% of people with some college education who never make it to the ballot. My argument is this: Improving specifically these two categories of voter- and other identifiers of knowledge, ability and decision making- would be more beneficial to our society overall than attempting to get simply the overall percentage higher.
So why don’t these people vote? One would think that with that level of education and a single drop of civic duty, these people would at least mail off an absentee ballot. There are several factors which drive this group (as well as everyone) away from the polls.
1) The hassle of voter registration. Yes, it seems trivial, but research has shown that simply the hassle of registering, if not preventing people from doing so, at least prompts them to put it off until its too late.
2) Low levels of Policy Efficacy among voters. This is the biggie for the educated crowd. Policy Efficacy refers to the level at which people think their votes have an effect on the election. Those who are even marginally educated essentially know that their vote almost certainly means nothing to the outcome of the election. This may be true- but their lack of vote does have an effect, and many people following the same thought process creates a problem.
3) Election Frequency: Americans are never NOT having an election. Whether on a 4 year, 2 year, or one year cycle, everywhere in America at any given time there is almost certainly SOME election taking place. Voter fatigue is a huge problem: people who care enough to take the time to thoroughly research their vote simply don’t have the time or energy to do so.
4) too many issues/no important issue: Our politics has degraded into a plethora of interests and issues, most of which are complex and conflicting. Sometimes this leads to people electing not to take a “side” in which some issues they agree and others they do not. Furthermore, no issue is life or death anymore (save a certain few). Ultimately, for the average voter, their life won’t drastically change if one party is elected over the other. This of course breeds voter apathy.
So, how do we fix voter turnout? Mandatory elections would draw in all of the voters we DON’T want, which leaves us with few options. The first would be to reform voter registration again. This isn’t too complicated and would certainly help. We live in an age of technology, and almost everything can be conducted online. Why must I fill out and mail my registration? Streamline it, and make it less of a chore. The next step would be to attack the root of the problem: education. More educated people equals more people turning out to vote. But ultimately there is a solution so radical to Americans that it just might work.
Open it up to third parties. In the last election, essentially 50% of people voted democrat while 50% voted republican. And yet, over 30% of Americans identify as independents. It is physically impossible for two parties to be able to accurately represent the entire nation. No one in either party can agree with each and every policy of that party. Opening up the election (namely be repealing or reforming the electoral college), would allow more focused and identifiable parties to maintain the support of active participants with focused issues. People would HAVE to vote because their party, (the more suited party to their particular interests) actually depended on it. I’m not saying that third, or multiparty systems don’t have their share of problems. But ultimately they would solve more problems than they create. In addition to helping solve this pesky issue of the vote, they also improve upon that democracy people so value, they reduce gridlock, force compromise, and provide voters with clearer choices come election day.
At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure America can survive on its 57 percent turnout rate. Of the half who don’t vote, the majority probably had little of value to add to the election. Of those that did, it most probably wouldn’t massively affect the outcome. But a smoothly running republic could easily survive with at least 80% of qualified voters actually doing it.