To vote, or not to vote – that is the question


Every year, millions of Americans take to the polls to elect their representatives. However, voter turnout rate in the US only accounts for about half of the entire eligible population.

In the 2016 general election, only about 56 percent of citizens eligible to vote cast ballots. That means only 157.6 million people out of about 245.5 million eligible voters went to the polls.  This is compared to 57.5 percent voter turnout in the 2012 general election. In addition, according to a Pew Research Study, the US is ranked 31 out of 35 developed countries in terms of voter turnout rates.  This brings up the question: why are the voter turnout rates so low? And what can be done to change them?

The graph above shows the United States voter turnout rates in comparison to four other countries. The voter turnout rate has dropped to less than 60 percent over the last 40 years.

There are actually many ways to increase this rate, the first of which is making the process for citizens to register easier.  Registering to vote is a long process that leaves many feeling disheartened and unmotivated.

“The registration process can be difficult,” senior Brennan Maynard said, “There’s just a lot of different steps that people may not have time for or just don’t really have the energy or motivation to do.”

In many countries, voter registration is automatic and citizens of the eligible age are registered to vote just by being a citizen of that country.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, this allows citizens to “opt-out” of the election process rather than “opt-in” in a “normal” general election in the US.

“I think that more people would vote (if voter registration was automatic).  (Specifically) Those people that think it’s important to vote but don’t know how to register or that there’s a lot of complications with the registration,” Maynard said, “But I don’t think that would make too much of a difference because I don’t think that registration is the biggest problem.”

In fact, the biggest problem with low voter turnout rates might be the that people don’t feel that they have a voice or that their vote matters.

Confidence in the institutions in the US plays a big role in voter turnout.  Unfortunately, confidence in the presidency was at 33 percent; confidence in Congress, only 8 percent (from Gallup study in 2015).  This probably accounts for the low voter turnout in the 2016 general elections when just over half of eligible citizens voted in the election.

Another reason that many people don’t vote is that they simply aren’t educated about the process or the candidates.  Currently, only nine states in the US require a full year of civics education.

“Schools need to stress civics,” senior Alana Roy said, “Schools don’t realize the influence they have on people.”

Educating the public may be the first step to increase the voter turnout.  But the desire to vote and contribute to the democracy must first come within the voters themselves.

“A lot of people don’t think (voting) is as important as it is in reality,” Roy said. “Many people don’t realize the privilege of being able to vote in a democracy.”