This article is not about political parties, politics, or candidates, but the fact that in 2013 and now in 2017 only 30% of all registered voters in Erie County showed up to cast their ballot. If you are like me, a moderately engaged citizen, that shows up at the very least every primary and general election, reads the news, and feels generally informed about the election process and its candidates, you might be feeling a little angry or disappointed this morning.
As I’m scrolling through my social media feed, looking at all the “political” posts, I can’t help but think that up to 70% of my “friends” can take the time to post a meme, hit a like, or add a comment, but not 10 minutes to vote. Admittedly, I’m angry. I want to know why.
As my mother said this morning, she spends “365 days a year reminding people to vote” and she’s not kidding. Growing up I was embarrassed that one of the first questions my mother asked my friends (age 18+) was, “are you registered to vote?” It was one of the very first questions she asked each of my ex-boyfriends, to which I would roll my eyes and groan, “mommmm.”
This occured virtually everywhere we went, family parties, social gathering, concerts, events, etc… inevitably someone would say, no, they weren’t registered. Lucky for them in the back of her ‘96 Saturn, she carried a stack of Voter Registration forms.
“Would you like to register today?” She’d ask, never forceful or judgemental, but with a look that said, you should do it, while conveniently offering a pen. I can’t recall anyone refusing. Patiently, she would walk them through the questions. Never leading, but offering to explain what the different sections meant, in a unbiased and neutral tone. There was a reverence for this process.
Time and time again, I watched this ritual. Voting was important. It mattered. It was akin to washing your face and brushing your teeth, but I realize that how I grew up is very different from most.
When asked about mandatory voting, then president Barack Obama responded, “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.”
He’s right. If every registered voter cast a ballot along their designated party line, democrats would be virtually undefeatable in County-wide seats, where registered democrats outnumber registered republicans 2-1. But the fact is, they don’t vote. This is not a value statement. It’s a fact.
But this issue is not unique to Erie County, the United States has long had one of the lowest levels of voter turnout of all developed countries in the world.
According to a BBC article published in October of 2016, “the historical lack of enthusiasm for voting in the U.S. has been heightened in this year’s bitter presidential election – which has seen gruelling months of mudslinging and a rise in hateful invective – leaving some voters no other option than to tune it out.” The article goes on to quote:
Brian Meyer, a 32-year-old resident in southeast Wisconsin, has also decided to not to vote in the presidential election for the first time since he was 18. Mr Meyer, a former Bernie Sanders supporter who has been unable to throw his support behind either candidate, said his decision not to vote was his form of protest.
“This is my way to protest the system for throwing American people overboard,” he said.
Is that what we are doing? Tuning out the election? Not voting as a protest?
Political Scientists agree that there are approximately 4 main “reasons” people list as to why they don’t vote. This list is summarized from Sciencenews.org:
Registering to vote. In other countries people are automatically registered to vote, in fact in some countries, like Australia, voting is mandatory. In the U.S., people need to take some form of action to register. However, once registered, the vast majority still do not cast a ballot, especially in non-presidential year cycles.
Education. According to the Science News Article, “The single biggest predictor of whether or not people will vote is education level, which has direct and indirect effects on voting.”
People are more likely to vote if they have information about the candidates and the process of voting, higher levels of income and education, find themselves living and working in networks of other people who vote,” says Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, “Other people who are disadvantaged in those ways are much less likely.
Two party system. Burden also believes that a two-party system, may not be enough. If people can’t find a candidate who that they feel represents their views. It’s very difficult for a third-party candidate to win an election, Mert Moral, a political scientist at the State University of New York at Binghamton says. “This makes people vote for major party candidates or they don’t turn out at all.”
Burn-out or Apathy.
My vote won’t change the election, so why bother?
When asked about politics or voting, some people just don’t care, or feel overwhelmed by the choices, and so then don’t vote. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, or maybe this is the way you feel? According to Burden, “We ask voters to make a lot of decisions.” Getting out to the polls can be a hassle, and learning about every single issue takes time. “We have a complicated system and I think that produces fatigue.”
But here’s the problem, your vote does count. Your voice matters, and we want to hear from you.
My mother’s Facebook post this morning is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “with the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” with the comment, “Rise & shine gals. Shape the next century of women voters!”
So, WNY, we have 365 days until next year’s election. And although it can feel overwhelming, disappointing, annoying, etc… just like brushing your teeth, it’s still important. Renew your resolve, and maybe pick up a stack of voter registration forms and a pen, and ask your friends, “are you registered?” and “will you vote?”
What will it take to earn your vote?
We are asking you to once again make your voice heard, even if you chose not to exercise that right yesterday, and please fill out this brief survey by clicking here. We will keep the names anonymous, but we will tally and publish the summarized results, as well as deliver them to each of the party heads, and the Erie County Board of Elections.
CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT THIS BRIEF SURVEY.