The day is November 4th, 2008. The occasion is the 2008 presidential election in the United States of America. Arguably the most controversial election in American history is about to take place due to an African American having a very real chance at becoming the president of the free world. In just a single day, the Australian ballots are compiled and tabulated and the results are in. Surely, in this momentous event in history we shall finally have achieved 100% voter turnout, or at least something close to that, due to some excusable absences. But what’s this? Only somewhere in the neighborhood of 64% showed up at the polls? How can this be? There must be something wrong with the citizens today. There must be an extreme decline in social capital, in the civic responsibilities of the individual! This is a serious problem in America, and we should attack it with full force of our military and make the citizens participate… As you can plainly see that sounds quite ridiculous, and has no basis whatsoever. Not only this solution to political participation is incorrect, but the question itself isn’t even being asked correctly. If this is true, then how can we really say there is a voter turnout problem in America? The short answer is: There isn’t a problem.
Firstly, taking a look at the problem’s description, one can see a fairly obvious conflict: how we measure our turnout. In many countries, they base their turnouts off of registered voters, not off of the voting age population, and this puts us at a clear numerical disadvantage when comparing turnouts. This is very comparable to saying that we as a nation are only achieving six feet four inches in the high jump, but Europe is getting 45 yards in the shot put; they’re completely different measures and incomparable.
Secondly, if one were to still be upset with voter turnouts based solely off of relativity to our past turnouts, then I would ask one to take a closer look at the data from our past. One would notice a few things, upon closer inspection. One: that there is over 100% voter turnout in some of the presidential races dating back, implying very much that voter fraud is causing these high turnout rates. Two: that we have expanded our voter base by quite a bit since then. With the expansion of suffrage to all people 18 and older of all races and genders, our numbers could and have gone up very much since the time at which one is probably looking, but our percentages have gone down, which is very excusable when considering the hundreds of millions of people allowed to vote later on.
Thirdly, there are so many more and better ways to be politically active. One can go out and do volunteer work, one could write letters to politicians, participate in sit-ins/protests, and campaign for a candidate among other things, but voting is such a narrow view into the window of political activity. A “decline in civic duty” cannot only be attributed to voter turnout on the decline.
Fourthly, with the spawn of the 24/7 media flow almost beamed directly into our heads nowadays, and the political scandals being exposed left and right, there is a lot of mistrust in government, and who can blame the cynical? The men and women of today place their faith in their governing officials, and while they are human, they are supposedly a part of a higher class of person who, with the extra granted power, should answer to a higher calling of responsibility. And when these responsibilities are broken, the trust of his/her constituents is broken, and voter apathy, mistrust and ignorance set in, as the people become disenfranchised and disillusioned with not only the persons, but with the political parties with which they are respectively associated. If, after all this, those who have been wronged choose not to vote, then it is entirely their right and choice to do so, and we must respect it.
Lastly, there is no real solution to the “problem” that people see with American voter turnout. Even if we wanted to, there’s no real method to motivate voters to get out there and cast an intelligent vote. As seen with the motor-voter act, there is little effect even when one makes it easier for the rest to register and vote. It really just comes down to a function of efficacy: if you have it, you’re probably going to vote, and if you don’t you’re not going to. No amount of trying to fix the way the system works will help. You’d have to change the way the people behave, which is quite impossible.
In conclusion, there are a myriad of good reasons as to why we do not appear to have the same voter turnout as other nations. None of these factors working against the turnout are in any way problematic. When compared in reality, we have a relatively decent turnout as is, and the highest density of political activists of all other nations! How can anyone call this situation anything but positive? The political health of America is in good shape and anyone who cannot see otherwise needs glasses.