The Kansas August primary election voter turn-out was around 20%. General elections have greater turn-out, perhaps 40-50%. Local elections typically draw only 5 to 10 percent of registered voters. Regardless of the election locale, the participation rate is abysmal. Representative democracy depends on an informed citizenry exercising its franchise to select the members of legislative bodies and executive offices. Low participation rates cause the election of legislators who may or may not represent the majority. To fix this short-coming in our system of governance requires that we understand the reasons for low participation rates, and doing so, that we be guided to make changes that obtain the highest possible voter turn-out.
A listing of several reasons people fail to vote, even after becoming registered to vote, follows. The reasons are cited as a Problem, along with a possible Solution. Although solutions may be devised to cause a non-voter become a voter, the solution will work only if the non-voter is willing to become a voter. There is no order of prevalence in the listing of voting problems, because I have no empirical data to rank them. If you have ideas about the causes for not voting and the possible solutions to encourage voting, please comment. I have reached my limit for both.
1. Problem: Too busy. On election days, activities such as: work during polling hours, child and/or invalid care, unexpected or emergency travel, etc., take precedence over a trip to the polls.
Solution: Weekend voting and regular advance voting would help reduce this excuse for not voting. Signing up as an advance voter for all elections would eliminate having to select this option for each election. Keeping the polls open over a weekend would reduce voting interferences.
2. Problem: Don’t care. Voters feel candidates or issues are not sufficiently different to affect their lives. Thus, no compelling reason exists to warrant the effort to vote.
Solution: Require each candidate to file a statement as to their position on various issues selected by a citizen’s panel. The statements would appear on the ballot in some form, helping to differentiate between candidates.
3. Problem: Forgetfulness. Every day in the lives of these non-voters is pretty much the same. An election day is overlooked, because it is not significant enough to change their routine.
Solution: Frequent public service announcements (PSAs) by the media would heighten awareness that an election day is occurring.
4. Problem: Lack of mobility. Lacking transportation or not being ambulatory can prevent elderly, handicapped or impoverished persons from voting.
Solution: Develop a non-partisan program to give voters lacking mobility the opportunity to vote. This could include public buses, school buses, volunteers, and other transportation service providers.
5. Problem: Self-deprecation. A citizen may feel that his or her opinion doesn’t count as much as the opinions of others whom they view as better informed and capable of making a wiser choice.
Solution: PSAs stressing the civic duty of voting and the egalitarian aspects of a democratic electoral system may raise the self-esteem of persons, causing them to exercise their voting rights.
6. Problem: Rationalization. A voter may justify not voting by assuming that those who do vote are representative of all voters and the outcome will express the majority’s viewpoint.
Solution: Voters may confuse pre-election polls that use random sampling of the voting population with the actual election where the population sample is not random, but self-selected. A self-selected sample of voters only becomes representative of the population when the number of voters closely approaches or equals the number of registered voters. Educating voters of the importance of a high voter turn-out to insure that the will of the majority is expressed is necessary and should occur in school curricula.
7. Problem: Apathy. For various reasons, which may include depression, ennui, fatalism, etc., the potential voter has no interest in the selection of his or her elected representative and does not vote.
Solution: Good mental health services may reduce some of the mental inertia that deters voting. Apathy is probably the most difficult non-voting problem to solve, but may be reduced by the effect of other solutions to the non-voting problem.
8. Problem: Intellectual Rebellion. The non-voter, dissatisfied with the political system and its results, expresses opposition by not voting, preferring to stay intellectually aloof from the fray.
Solution: Achieving a higher rate of voter turn-out would produce better results from our system of representative democracy and would lessen the prevalence of this objection to voting.
Maximum voter participation is the basis of a successful representative democracy. Understanding this gives one the proper framework to evaluate the damage to our democracy from the efforts of conservative extremists at voter suppression in all its forms. I firmly believe that higher voter turn-out would drive out these anti-democratic legislators and provide legislators who would use common sense to preserve our democracy.