Understanding The Factors Influencing Eligible Voters' Participation in America’s Presidential Elections

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About this sample


Words: 2356 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Words: 2356|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Voter Turnout: The Ins & Outs

In the 2012 Presidential election between Democrat, Barack Obama and Republican, Mitt Romney, only 54.87% of the voting age population in the United States followed through with their civic duty (Peters). More recently, the 2016 election had more than 58% of eligible voters participate in the general presidential election (Regan). These percentages are remarkably low compared to other Western, industrial democracies due to many differing factors. There are many explanations for the low voter turnout in the United States: strict registration requirements, varied types of elections, weekday election scheduling, voluntary versus compulsory voting, felon disfranchisement, and competitiveness. Some possible reforms that could increase voter turnout are limiting scheduling conflicts by making election day a holiday or instituting weekend voting, making voting mandatory, universal voter registration, and lowering the voting age ("How Can We Increase Voter Turnout”). Unfortunately, increasing voter turnout in the United States proves to be very difficult because people that are not currently voting do not believe that their votes will make a difference in the election.

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The Rational Theory of Political Participation offers reasoning as to why few people decide to cast a ballot and vote. This theory is outlined as follows: D = ppB – C + S + Rc + poRi which simplifies to D = Rc – C when certain variables, equaling zero, are cancelled out. The important variable to be noted in this equation when speaking about voter turnout is pp, which is the probability of pivotalness, in other words, the probability that your vote will be determinate to the result. The value of pp is extremely close to zero. This is shown by the phenomenon that the more people exercise their right to vote, the less each individual vote affects the outcome of an election – proving The Rational Theory of Political Participation rather accurate. It is the miniscule numerical value of pp that provides clarity as to why people do not believe their vote matters as much as it does and therefore, will not take the time to participate in an election. This, though, is a misconception because each vote counted is extremely important. Voter turnout has always been measured in two different ways: by presenting the proportion of the registered voters that voted in any given election, and by showing the percentage of the eligible voters that vote. The country’s statistics look way better when the first method mentioned is employed. The opinion held by many political scientists is that people are deterred from going to the polls to vote because the process of voter registration is simply too cumbersome.

Registration to vote can often be a hassle and is one of the contributing factors to low voter turnout in the United States. Previous voter registration is required to be able to vote in both the primaries and the general election. Voter registration is regulated by state, so the process slightly differs in various regions of the country. The qualifications to register to vote in New York state for example are relatively specific. A person must be a United States citizen, be eighteen years of age by the date of the general election (or other election in which one wishes to vote), live at the present address at least thirty days before the election, not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction, not be adjudged mentally incompetent by a court, and lastly not claim the right to vote elsewhere ("Board of Elections”). Registration can be achieved in person at one’s county board of elections New York State registration center, or go to their local Department of Motor Vehicles - either in person or online - to submit a voter registration form. The latter option became a possibility in 1993 with the Motor Voter Law which indicates that people can register at motor vehicle departments in attempts to stifle declining voter registration and in turn, voter turnout (“The National Voter Registration Act Of 1993”).

The type of election affects the number of people that choose to exercise their right to vote as well. Fewer voters across all states turn out to vote in primary and local elections compared to the general presidential election. This phenomenon is seen because voters often believe that the presidential elections are more important to participate in than local elections. In recent elections, statistics show that about 60% of the eligible voting population participated in the presidential elections while only about 40% voted during midterm elections. Voter turnout is generally lower for any given odd year in politics.

In the United States, election day is always on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The two possible dates for election day to fall on are November 2nd or November 8th (“Election Day in the United States”). Tuesdays, obviously, are during the work week and many people are busy and not available to leave their employment establishments, or a plethora of other demanding responsibilities, to go vote. To remedy this, many other democratic countries around the world decide to give their citizens an opportunity to vote on the weekends. Examples of these countries include France with a 67.3% voter turnout, Germany with an 80.2% voter turnout, and Thailand with 82.1% voter turnout (Monroe). Each of the aforementioned percentages of participating voters are higher than the United States’ voter turnout in a presidential election. A research-based article by MinnPost offered an explanation as to why voting on Tuesdays has been a tradition followed for so many years: “Many Americans observed a Sabbath ban on travel. Tuesday voting would give the (white, male) farmers the Sabbath day off, Monday to get to the county seat, Tuesday to vote and Wednesday to get back home” (Black). This reasoning was justifiable in 1845 when it was first instituted, but certainly not presently in 2016. There has been discussion about a reformation changing election day from Tuesday to a designated weekend so that more people would have the opportunity to go vote, but nothing has been put into effect. Many times, eligible voters have conflicting schedules at work that prevent them from participating. Most of time, they are busy at work or school, are too busy, out of town, sick or forgot, or missed their registration deadline. It is a sad reality that the above reasons are justifications to low voter turnout in the United States.

Many democracies have compulsory voting, which means that it is mandatory to vote. Argentina, Australia, Belgium, and Brazil and a few examples of countries that choose to enforce compulsory voting. There are opposing arguments in politics that are for and against the idea of compulsory voting, since it is voluntary in the United States. The common view in the United States is that voting at its bare definition is a right and should not be forced upon anyone, while it is still a civic duty and responsibility. Arguments against compulsory voting claim that forcing citizens to vote hints at totalitarianism. However, it is frowned upon to not vote for illegitimate reasons so it is argued that problems like this would be solved with compulsory voting. One positive aspect of compulsory voting is that the elected representatives are more legitimate. In the United States for example where the voter turnout is relatively low, candidates can still win with much less than the majority vote as seen in the recent 2016 presidential election. Many people can argue that and say that if voting is compulsory, ill-informed people will vote based on a misinformed background, putting the country’s elected representatives in jeopardy. Along with the many causes of low voter turnout in the United States, voluntary voting is one that should be considered.

Felony Disenfranchisement is another factor to be considered when looking at the reasons for the low voter turnout in the United States. The U.S. houses about 22% of the world’s prisoners (Wagner). This percentage is 22 out of 100 of the whole world, not just the country. This statistic is remarkable when one thinks of the number of people that are prohibited from voting. People with felony convictions can vote once they complete their given sentence. People who are currently in prison, on parole, or probation at the time of the election cannot vote. The MinnPost article also offers insight regarding felon disfranchisement: “Eleven of the 31 democracies (including our neighbor Canada) allow felons to vote from prison. So do Maine and Vermont” (Black). The number is neither here nor there because this is unbiased, but those are significant numbers to not be reckoned with or ignored. The amount of people that are not participating in elections in the United States solely because of felony disenfranchisement is a significant number that will and already does contribute to the low voter turnout in this country.

The competitiveness of an election also determines how many people decide to come out and vote. If an election seems as if it is going to cut it close between the two candidates, then people feel like their vote matters more than it did before when it was not as competitive. More competitive elections generally bring higher turnouts, and voter rates increase significantly in years when presidential candidates are particularly competitive (Herzog). People enjoy good competition and it draws them to the polls to cast their vote.

The difficulty of absentee voting is another factor to be recognized when analyzing the low voter turnout in the country. If a voter is not in his or her hometown at the time of election day, one must vote by absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are difficult because they usually have pretty inflexible rules such as the rule that some states require a request for an absentee ballot to occur in person, which is not realistic nor practical. If people are not home, they use that as a reason to not register for their absentee ballots and consequently not vote. Being surround my college students and being one myself, I understand the frustration of voting absentee, but it is a responsibility of ours as U.S. citizens.

Lastly, weak political parties are another reason for low voter turnouts. If the candidates running for office physically give face-time to the people of different geographic regions, people will feel more of a personal connection to them and therefore feel like the candidate deserves for them to go and vote for them. The grass roots, the local levels of government, are arguably the most important group of people to get in contact with because they are often the ones who are neglected the most. In many other countries, other than the United States, the political parties make great efforts to get their people to the polls. Voter turnout is something in American government that must be acknowledge and deserves attention since we are outstandingly low when compared to other democracies around the world. Some political analysts will say that it does not matter that the United States’ voter turnout is low because it simply means that the American population is content with the status quo. Oppositely, some people believe that the low voter turnout is a signal towards apathy regarding the American political system as a whole (Herzog). It is important that people complete their duty to their country and vote for who they believe will best serve their country on the local representative level in addition to the presidential election.

There has been a history of attempted reform for voter turnout in the U.S., but percentages fluctuate in very small patterns and increments. In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in Congress in effort to fix some of the underlying issues in government that were contributing to poor voter turnout. The HAVA of 2002 provided money to the government to update their old methods of submitting votes via various instruments and pieces of equipment. A few new ways of voting have been implemented after the HAVA in 2002 such as provisional ballots, early voting, same-day voter registration and on-line voting (Herzog). Provisional ballots for one example helped more people’s vote count in election if their registration had not yet been confirmed or received. The person’s ballot will still be accepted, but not counted until their registration can be confirmed and validated. Provisional ballots allowed more people to submit a ballot instead of choosing not to vote because they were unsure if their registration was processed in time. Another creative way of improving voter turnout is early voting. This method was popular during 2008 and utilized by thirty-four different states (Herzog). It allowed people to submit a ballot before the given election day in person or by mail. This method helped people who were busy on election day at work or school to vote. A third way to vote that was attempted in the U.S. was same-day voter registration. This process is fairly self-explanatory where a prospective voter would be given the ability to register and vote on the same day rather than a month prior to voting. Finally, online voting was tried and did not last very long since many critics worried about fraud. Scanning and uploading ballots presented too many opportunities for deception.

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There are slim reforms that could potentially fix the low voter turnout in America due to the strong lack of interest in government that people feel. The best possible reform that would help the turnout rate rise quickest would most likely be universal registration. Universal registration would save the eligible voting population from the burdensome process of registering so far in advance and would help in modernizing the voter registration process all together. The factor that truthfully inhibits the enactment of this reform is that the government does not want to take on that responsibility of registering voters themselves. This inhibition can most definitely be overcome because there is nothing physically restricting it. It would just take extra work on the government’s part that they are not willing to do at this point in time. The government just needs time and cooperation in order for reforms to be made and ultimately increase voter turnout.

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Understanding The Factors Influencing Eligible Voters’ Participation in America’s Presidential Elections. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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