In 2014, just 37% of people turned out to elect 36 Senators and 435 Representatives to office. Two years later during the highly publicized presidential election, only 61% of Americans took the opportunity to make their voice heard. While that may sound bad, the numbers seem even worse when we look at comparable countries. Out of the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) countries (essentially a group of economically developed, democratic nations), the United States comes in 26th out of 32. That’s not the leading presence we normally imagine when talking about our country.
Why should you be concerned about this low voter turnout? It leads to a real lack of representation. Small, yet highly motivated issue groups will push for more extreme candidates, and these groups succeed because large swaths of Americans fail to vote to represent the majority’s views. So what’s stopping the all those people from taking action?
Well, in the current system, voting can be convoluted and time-consuming. In some states, paper forms have to be mailed in at least a month before the election to register. And it gets worse then just having to use a stamp; in states with an exact match law, if a single character on your voter registration differs from your other government documentation, your registration can be thrown out.
These laws are unnecessarily complex and confusing; by just implementing a couple safe and cost-effective policies we can get more people out and voting.
Unite America advocates for two specific changes to voter registration laws: Automatic Voter Registration and vote-by-mail. We’ll break them both down and explain just how they work to make voting easier and more accessible to the regular person.
It may seem like common sense, but people who are registered to vote are more likely to do so (86% of registered voters voted in 2016)! But the complicated process of registering can slow people down, or even stop them from voting all together.
It doesn’t have to be this way: Automatic Voter Registration allows a state to register voters as soon as they complete a common service, like requesting a driver’s license.
The state of Oregon was the first to adopt such a program; when someone registers for a driver’s license in Oregon, they’re also automatically registered to vote. The person is sent a card by mail informing them of their registration, and if they really don’t want to be registered (or participate in democracy) they can send the signed card back. Now in Oregon 61% of people vote increasing representation and allowing for a better government. Analysis of states with automatic voter registration has shown that the system also helps to increase turnout among underrepresented minority communities.
The second solution we support is called vote-by-mail. States with vote-by-mail systems send ballots straight to an individual’s place of residence, permitting them to vote from home and mail the ballot back. This saves people a time-consuming trip to a polling station on November 6, and allows them the chance to fully research the candidates and positions listed on their ballot.
As enacted in Colorado, it’s not only provided more people the opportunity to vote, but also reduced costs for the state. In the 2018 election, 63% of Coloradans voted, and for each ballot cast, the cost associated for the state was reduced by 40%. Not only was it cost effective state, but it helped increase turnout, too: states with vote-by-mail systems outperformed other states in voter turnout by as much as 15%.
We have a whole host of problems to fix as a country, but these are two simple solutions that allow more people to register, and make voting a more accessible, simpler process. We believe in a country for the people and by the people and that can’t happen if our citizens don’t vote. It’s time we made our government truly represent our nation, not just part of it.
Ethan Somers is rising senior at the George Washington University. He is an intern at Unite America.