|Voters and Non-Voters: Can
We Do Better?
First, many Americans say they are too busy. A 1998 Census Bureau study found that among those who were registered but did not vote in the 1996 campaign, 21.5 percent said they did not vote "because they could not take time off of work or school or because they were too busy."
Complex voter registration requirements were thought to be one cause deterring people from participating, and in 1993 Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter) to make it easier for people to register. However, simplifying registration has not improved the voting picture.
In an effort to address the voter turnout problem, individual states have been trying measures to make it easier to vote, such as early voting, voting by mail, and liberal absentee ballot rules. Some observers have suggested that weekend voting be implemented nationally.
Remedies to the voter turnout problem may lie beyond the reach of simple pieces of legislation, however. An August 1998 Center for Voting and Democracy report "Monopoly Politics" predicted 317 of the 435 House races would be uncontested, landslide wins or comfortable wins. It is an astounding fact that at least 94 House incumbents did not face a major party challenger in November 1998. Competitive races create greater interest and boost participation. Credible third party challenges, notably Ross Perot's candidacy in 1992 and Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial campaign in 1998, have brought high turnout.
Another possible explanation for low voter turnout is the way politics is conducted today--the tone of campaigns. Poll-driven rhetoric begins to sound the same after a while, thirty-second spots are not a very effective way to conduct a reasoned discourse, and attacks are not likely to encourage people to turn out at the polls.
Besides the parties' efforts to bring out their own supporters, a host of nonpartisan groups have sought to raise the turnout of voters. Efforts range from 30-second public service announcements (PSAs) done by groups such as Rock The Vote that contain slick get-out-the-vote messages to grassroots drives in which people go door-to-door in targetted neighborhoods.
It must be remembered that voting is only a first step, a minimum level of participation. The real challenge is not just to increase the number of voters, but to ensure citizens are informed about the choices they make.
|Voting Age Population (VAP)
|% VAP Voted
Broad Overview of the Electorate
Census Bureau Facts (Oct. 23, 2000 release)
Census Bureau Projections of Voting Age Population (July 31, 2000 release)
Youth Vote 2000 ""Getting Out the Youth Vote: Results from Randomized Field Experiments" (June 12, 2001)
Third Millennium's "Neglection 2000"
Kennedy School's "The Vanishing Voter Project"
National Election Studies NES "Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior"
Committee for the Study of the American Electorate
Federal Election Commission's "About Elections and Voting"
Census Bureau Report "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 1996"
Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies "The Black Vote in '98"
National Association of Secretaries of State's New Millennium Project (Youth Attitudes)
Register and Vote! photos
Project Vote Smart
Web White & Blue
League of Women Voters
Rock The Vote
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
Latino Vota 2000
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote 2000
People of Faith 2000
National Organization on Disability: N.O.D. VOTE! 2000
Democracy in Practice: NH Youth Voter Alliance
Youth Vote 2000
Campus Green Vote
National Student/Parent Mock Election
Kids Voting USA
The National Coalition for the Homeless' Voting Rights Campaign
Federal Voting Assistance Program
Making It Easier to Vote
Increasing Competition and
Ballot Access News
Center for Responsive Politics
Center for Voting and Democracy
Alliance for Better Campaigns
Polls: Snapshots of the
washingtonpost.com's Data Directory
Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.