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Voter Turnout POLS 21: The American Political System “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote.

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Presentation on theme: "Voter Turnout POLS 21: The American Political System “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote."— Presentation transcript:

1 Voter Turnout POLS 21: The American Political System “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election.” — Bill Vaughan

2 Voter Turnout in 2012 In November 2012, 130 million votes were cast for president. Is that number high or low Is that number high or low? It depends on how turnout is measured…

3 How Should We Measure Turnout? The voting-age population (VAP) includes non-citizens and felons who are ineligible to vote, and excludes expatriate citizens who could legally vote overseas. VAP estimates provide the lowest turnout levels because they underestimate actual turnout. The voting-eligible population (VEP) starts with the voting-age population, then subtracts disenfranchised felons and non-citizens, and adds citizens from overseas. VEP estimates of voting turnout are higher than VAP estimates. The number of registered voters includes only those legally registered to vote. This provides the highest rate of voter turnout. Turnout statistics can use any of three denominators:

4 130 million votes cast 241 million voting age citizens =54% voter turnout VAP VEP 130 million votes cast 222 million voting eligible citizens =59% voter turnout How Should We Measure Turnout? REG 130 million votes cast 172 million registered voters =76% voter turnout

5 Turnout and the Census Bureau The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 64% of U.S. citizens voted in the 2004 presidential election (up from 60% in 2000). Also according to the Census Bureau, among those registered to vote, 89% (126 million) said they did. Both figures come from the Current Population Survey (CPS), and are therefore subject to both sampling and non-sampling error. For instance, the CPS estimate of overall turnout (125.7 million) differs from the “official” turnout, as reported by the Clerk of the House (122.3 million). Why? Because people lie and exaggerate in surveys, especially on something as socially desirable as voting behavior…

6 If voter turnout is low, compared to what? Compared to other countries Compared to historic rates of voter turnout in the United States

7 Voter Turnout in the United States Compared to Other Countries Source: International IDEA,

8 Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections,

9 The 26 th Amendment grants year olds the right to vote The 19 th Amendment grants women the right to vote

10 Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections,

11 How Should We Measure Turnout?

12 Increasing Voter Turnout OPTION #1: Do nothing. Once we use the appropriate measure (e.g., VEP), there is no problem. OPTION #2: Do nothing. Turnout may be low, but we don’t want uneducated, uninformed people voting anyway. OPTION #3: Do nothing. Voter and non-voters have similar policy preferences, so it makes little difference OPTION #4: Do something! Voting by mail Voting early Internet voting Election day registration

13 Does Low Voter Turnout Matter? Smaller, more highly educated, less representative electorate? Larger, less well educated, more representative electorate? Should we prefer a:

14 Making It Too Easy to Vote? Jeff Jacoby, a staff writer for the Boston Globe, wrote the following essay in July, 1996— Universal suffrage? I’m for that. Voting is right, not a privilege? Absolutely. No unreasonable barriers to voter registration? I agree. Government workers should go out of their way to sign up welfare recipients to vote? Hold it. Welfare recipients are people who don’t work, don’t pay taxes and don’t support themselves. Of course there are exceptions, but as a group—let’s face it—they are among the least educated, least productive, least responsible adults in America. They’re also among the least likely to be interested in elections or to follow public debates. If in addition they don’t bother to vote, we ought to be grateful. Why would anyone want to coax them into registering? …No one is disenfranchised in this country. Unlike the days of old, there are no poll taxes, literacy tests, gender barriers or property requirements to come between any citizen and the voting booth. If U.S. elections are marked by chronically low turnout, it is not because voters are kept away. They stay away. Some are apathetic, some are ignorant, some are simply self- centered. Why badger people to register? What would they bring to an election?… No welfare caseworker—no state employee, period—should have to spoonfeed voting rights to anyone, least of all people on the dole. If they can figure out how to get food stamps, they can figure out how to get registered. They choose not to? So be it. American democracy won’t suffer.

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16 Increasing Voter Turnout OPTION #1: Do nothing. Once we use the appropriate measure (e.g., VEP), there is no problem. OPTION #2: Do nothing. Turnout may be low, but we don’t want uneducated, uninformed people voting anyway. OPTION #3: Do nothing. Voter and non-voters have similar policy preferences, so it makes little difference OPTION #4: Do something! Voting by mail Voting early Internet voting Election day registration

17 Why Don’t People Vote? Institutional context Motor-Voter Compulsory voting Election Day registration Voting by mail Internet voting Motivational strategies Personal canvassing Social pressure Enduring personal traits and psychological orientations Socialization through programs such as Kids Voting USA

18 How Does Motor-Voter Work? 1.Simultaneous application for driver’s license and voter registration 2.Mail application for voter registration 3.Application in person at certain government agencies, including public assistance offices and agencies that provided services to people with disabilities Widely known as Motor-Voter, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is designed to encourage voter registration and to remove discriminatory and unfair obstacles to voter registration. As of January 1, 1995, the law requires states to register voters for federal elections in three specific ways, in addition to any other procedures they use currently for registering voters:

19 Has Motor-Voter Increased Ballot Fraud? "Operation Big Vote" in the St. Louis area was used by Democrats to register more African-American voters and get them to the voting booth on Election Day. They delivered 3,800 voter registration cards to the St. Louis Elections Board on the February 7, 2001, nearly all of them fraudulent. Many of them sought to register prominent people, dead or alive - as well as at least three deceased aldermen and a dog. In 2000, the state of Florida hired a private firm named ChoicePoint to “cleanse” its voter rolls of felons who were ineligible to vote. The company produced a list of 8,000 names to remove from the registration rolls, only to find later that none had committed felonies, only misdemeanors. Critics argued the process unfairly targeted African-American voters.

20 The Problem with Motor-Voter Voter Registration Voter Turnout Motivation and/or interest in politics

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22 Voter Turnout as a Political Strategy With narrow margins of victory, and an electorate split evenly down the middle, political parties increasingly battle over voter turnout.

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24 In 2000, George W. Bush won the state of Florida by just 537 votes (0.01%) In Oregon, the presidential election that year was decided by 6,745 votes (0.44%) In Iowa, by 4,144 votes (0.31%) In Wisconsin, by 5,708 votes (0.22%) In New Mexico, by 366 votes (0.06%) Close Elections Mean Turnout Matters

25 In 2004, George W. Bush won Wisconsin by 11,384 votes (0.38%) In New Hampshire, by 9,274 votes (1.37%) In New Mexico, by 5,988 votes (0.79%) In Iowa, by 10,059 votes (0.67%) Close Elections Mean Turnout Matters Tight states in 2008: North Carolina, Indiana, Florida, Ohio

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28 Increasing Voter Turnout Voting by mail Voting early Internet voting Election day registration

29 Vote Mobilization Efforts to increase voter turnout are often called “Get-Out-the-Vote” drives, or GOTV.

30 Obama goes door-to-door in Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa - Democrat knocked on doors in the Iowa capital Saturday talking up his opposition to the war in Iraq. At one stop, Obama got a warm welcome from a woman who said the visit might persuade her to attend the Democratic presidential caucus in January, "I'm flabbergasted that he's here knocking on my neighborhood door," Jody Degard told reporters after the visit from the Illinois senator.

31 Voter Turnout as a Political Strategy With narrow margins of victory, and an electorate split evenly down the middle, political parties increasingly battle over voter turnout.

32 Has Motor-Voter Increased Ballot Fraud? Nashawna Prude, 9, with a family photo that includes her grandmother, Kimberly, second from left, jailed for more than a year for voter fraud. Kimberly Prude was convicted of voting while on probation, an offense that she attributes to confusion over eligibility.

33 Vote Suppression Ballot and machine shortages on Election Day in selected precincts. Delays in sending absentee ballots. Vote challenges. Disqualification of provisional ballots. Purges of voter registration lists (e.g., voter caging). Misdirection of voters to polling places. Negative advertising designed to undermine morale.


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