DERMODY: Low-voter turnout can lead to greater problem in U.S.
Opinions Column: Under the Radar
Low voter turnout is an increasingly prominent issue in the United States. In the 2012 presidential election, for instance, only 53 percent of those eligible, voted. That means that well over 100 million potential votes were lost. In 2016, the turnout was even lower, as an additional 50 million Americans failed to show up on Election Day.
With only half of the eligible population participating, it is difficult for our government to establish legitimacy. America has always operated as a democratic republic, but this is only possible if our elected representatives are held accountable by the people. When only a fraction of the population votes, that is not the case. Instead, elected officials are only responsible for catering to the small percentage of Americans that actually turn out to the booths.
While some skeptics will read this and argue that their vote wouldn't matter anyway, that type of the thinking is not compatible with democratic elections. Democracy was founded on the principle that one person equals one vote, but America has lost sight of this need for equal representation.
The ironic thing is that some people actively chose not to vote as a form of protest. This was especially relevant in the past presidential election, where neither candidate could gain widespread support. People felt discouraged by their lack of options and, for whatever reason, felt that not voting was their sign of resistance. By doing so, they only further enabled the lack of representation that they were so unhappy with. Instead of skipping out on Election Day, Americans need to participate more than ever when they are not satisfied with their government.
A lot of people may not realize this, but presidential elections start long before November. Over a year before that, candidates participate in caucus debates and primary elections. At this point, voters are not yet restricted by only two options. Instead, they are free to consider several candidates, ultimately choosing one to endorse and represent their party at the general election. The national convention almost always confirms the candidate who has won the most delegates through the primaries and caucuses, especially if that number makes up a majority.
In other words, the presidential candidates that we vote for in November don't appear out of thin air. They are not just two random people that are chosen for us, but instead two candidates that we had the opportunity to observe and assess for several months. So, by participating in primaries along with general elections, Americans have the power to not only elect a winner but also decide who will be on the ballot in the first place. By voting at all stages of the presidential election, we can actually hold our "representatives" culpable, and that is how we should protest and express our discontent.
As former President Barack Obama once illustrated, "if everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country." I understand that many people are not interested in politics, but that should not discourage them from voting. Everybody is affected by the government and it is up to all of us to ensure that it remains a system that is "of the people, by the people, for the people." Americans should be eager to vote and keep their government in check.
Unfortunately, high turnout is not necessarily what the government wants. For elected officials, higher turnout at the booth is risky — it means less predictability and lower chances that they will get reelected. With that in mind, we must fight to make voting more accessible in the United States. From strict photo ID mandates to narrow voting booth hours, there are far too many restrictive voting laws in the United States, and Americans should be suspicious as to why this is the case. During a time in which we literally have the world at our fingertips, we should work on making Election Day more like the click of a button and less like a visit to the DMV. For example, why not automatically register everyone that is eligible to vote? And hold elections on a day that is more convenient than a Tuesday? Shouldn’t voting be encouraged and therefore made easy? While it certainly is important to avoid voter fraud, voting should not be made so difficult to the point that it is a burden on the citizen. By understanding the great responsibility of voting, and reinventing how we vote, we can create a culture in the U.S. where voting on Election Day is the norm and not the practice of a select few.
Luke Dermody is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and criminal justice with a minor in economics. His column, "Under the Radar," runs on alternate Fridays.
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