Opinion: How to improve voter turnout in elections

People cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a rally at Morehouse College, on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most interesting races in the history of our country. But while candidates are debating a wide variety of issues, not many are discussing voter turnout, which has historically been a major problem in the U.S.

Voter turnout has always been fairly low in the U.S., especially compared to other developed countries. The U.S. had a turnout of 53.6 percent of the voting age population that participates in elections in 2012. Interestingly, the percentage of registered voters who made it to the polls was over 84 percent, one of the highest in the world. 

What explains these numbers? Well, one major factor is voter registration. In some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, the government automatically registers citizens that are eligible to vote. In other countries, such as the UK and Australia, the government takes a strong initiative in locating and registering eligible citizens.

In contrast, the burden of registration falls upon the individual in the United States. In part, because of this added difficulty, only about 65 percent of the U.S. voting age population is registered. Sweden and the U.K. both have well over 90 percent of their population registered. 

A significant amount of people have cited a feeling that their vote doesn’t matter as a reason for not voting. There are many separate issues that contribute to this feeling. One of the most prominent, specifically in presidential elections, is the Electoral College.

In most cases, electoral votes are not awarded proportionately, meaning winning a state translates to winning all their electoral votes. For this reason, a Democrat in Texas or a Republican in California may be discouraged from voting. And for the most part, the presidential election only depends on about 10 swing states, so even a Democrat in Connecticut may not feel a need to vote because they are confident the state will go Democrat anyways. If people stay home for this reason, participation in the state and local races suffers.

Elections being held on a Tuesday contribute to the problem of low voter turnout. The day used to make sense, at least when it was determined in 1845. It would take about a day for farmers to get to the county seat to vote, so if it was held on Tuesday they wouldn’t have to travel on Sunday, as many observed a Sabbath ban on travel. Then they could get home by Wednesday, which was generally market day. 

This has to change. The majority of people in this day and age work on Tuesdays. Among registered voters that did not vote in the 2012 election, nearly 1 in 5 said they were too busy or had a conflicting schedule. One possible fix to this would be to put forward in a bill by Bernie Sanders, which would be to make Election Day a national holiday. This would give most employees the day off and make it much easier to get to a polling station. 

But why not take it one step further? I suggest we have elections over the weekend, and the government could still create a holiday if they were so inclined. This would give people a much longer period over which they could vote. This would not only help those that have busy schedules, it would also help cut down on lines because not everyone would have to vote on one day.

Furthermore, holding elections over a weekend would also aid those that encounter transportation problems, illness or simply forget to vote (something that happened to 4 percent of those who did not vote) by giving them a sort of “back-up day”.

Voter turnout is far from the only flaw with U.S. elections. There are many other issues that people may have with elections, from restrictive voter ID laws to campaign financing. But voter turnout is an issue that threatens our democracy.

It becomes more difficult to call our country a representative democratic republic when almost 50 percent of the voting age population does not participate in elections. It is clear from the numbers that once Americans register they show up to vote, so we are not lazier or more apathetic than the rest of the world. So many people and groups in this country have fought for the right to vote, and it is our responsibility to continue to make voting as fair and easy as possible for as many people as we can.


Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.