In the year 2000 presidential election, just over 50 percent of America's eligible voters went to the polls. In non-presidential elections at the local and state levels, the number is around 40 percent, though many elections see a voter turnout of 30 percent or less.
The decline in voter participation is most worrisome, for an old saying goes, if you don't vote to get the government you want, you get the one you deserve.
- The phenomenon of declining voter participation is nothing new; it has been occurring since the late 19th century.
- The decline in voter participation is caused by a growing minority (mostly black) within the American population, who were not allowed to vote in many states.
- Blacks were not allowed to participate in their communities on boards, in elected office, and so forth.
Today, every American who is not in prison or otherwise ineligible to vote can go the polls in any election. Still, millions of Americans feel disenfranchised, and it is a known fact that in some areas - such as poor urban areas - the votes of minorities are often not counted. Added to the problem is the choosing of individuals to work at the polls or get out the vote only because they are loyal to one of the parties. Expertise in the voting process is totally neglected.
So, disenfranchisement is one consequence that leads to non-participation. Young people, particularly (18-25 years old) are among the lowest participants; many do not even know who is running for office. Incredibly, one professor I know tried to have his class debate who, in their opinion, was the better presidential candidate - George Bush or Al Gore. More than half the class did not even know their names! The debate was not held.On another level, many minorities feel they are not part of the American electorate process and stay home during elections at every level. Many are not even registered, and even intense voter-registration drives prior to major elections does not translate in significant numbers of those new voters going to the polls. As a result, one candidate or another ends up with an unfair skewing of the popular vote.Today, every American who is not in prison or otherwise ineligible to vote can go the polls in any election. Still, millions of Americans feel disenfranchised, and it is a known fact that in some areas - such as poor urban areas - the votes of minorities are often not counted. Added to the problem is the choosing of individuals to work at the polls or get out the vote only because they are loyal to one of the parties. Expertise in the voting process is totally neglected.
A consequence is caused by ignorance of the voting process and its importance to communities, states, and the nation as a whole. In many of America's public schools, students are not taught the importance of being involved in their community or higher levels. They are not shown that sitting back and letting someone else pull the lever excludes them and their views from ever being heard by officials.
Little wonder that young adults, minorities and others have become apathetic and cynical toward the political process. Ironically, young people are volunteering on the community level in record numbers, but this does not translate to being directly involved in the political or voting processes. Perhaps if a greater effort is made in the schools, this trend might be halted and even reversed, though it will not happen overnight.
In 1998, fewer than 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 25 voted, according to the New Millennium Project, a government-sponsored effort. Worse, that same group said being involved in the voting and the democratic process was "very important" to just 26 percent of them.
Again, civics experts say that if young people are not taught the importance of participation, they most likely will not make it part of their lives. The associate director of the Center for Civics Education said, "Kids won't learn what they haven't been taught".
Another perception by many eligible voters is that both major political parties are controlled by elite forces. Therefore, they feel, their vote does not count. Beyond that attitude, they also feel they are not wanted as participants and stay away from the process, both as potential workers for a party, and as voters.Here, though, the issue appears to be one of recruitment. Where party officials phoned or visited a person and asked him or her to go to a political meeting or rally, or a speech or dinner, those who were personally contacted felt wanted and many became involved. Further, those who became involved also were much more likely to contribute to a political party. In terms of percentages, increases in political participation were 9.4 percent higher when people were contacted. And, a study showed, campaign contributions to political campaigns increased by nearly 11 percent when people were contacted personally and brought into the process.