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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Hyping up voter turnout in the United States

<ter turnout is undoubtedly an intricate topic which analysts have focused upon for years. I’m definitely not in a position to try to specifically analyze why we as a nation rank very low among many other countries in voter turnout, and the arguments for many factors are already well-established and debated. But if you just think about it, the movement to get people to get out and vote (consider the organization Rock the Vote)—a movement that is highly intensive and plays a large part in political campaigns—is something quite extraordinary. We operate under the assumption that people need to be given a better reason to vote other than that voting reflects important choices that we make about our lives, or that it is a constitutional privilege which by default should be taken seriously. Volunteers get on the phone to make sure that people are voting. Candidates who are able to win elections are also usually good at connecting to their base and expanding it through networking. Wouldn’t the election season and process be much more fruitful and productive if we didn’t have to be convinced to vote in the first place?

As we have a unique political history and government, it is hard to try to compare our nation to other countries in attempt to explain why we don’t get out and vote. Still, looking at the top countries in an assessment of world voter turnout according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance—Italy is number one and doesn’t have mandatory voting, whereas the United States comes in 139 out of 172—it is hard not to wonder what they have that we don’t. I feel like we are divided between those who are zealously engaged in politics, those who aren’t especially politically-minded but who vote and keep themselves informed, and those who are apathetic. I sometimes feel that here, being politically active is a personal characteristic that others may or may not share, whereas in some other places, it defines the population as a whole; where politics is incessantly on people’s minds, voting is but a manifestation of conclusions reached. Several months ago an Italian friend of mine and some of his classmates snuck into one of the city offices of their political party in the middle of the night to print the initial couple of hundred copies of their newly-formed political newspaper (a few modest pages containing submissions from other students), and until three or four in the morning they chalked up the sidewalks outside and around their university to promote it, and have been doing so ever since—and theirs is only one of probably a dozen politically-motivated newspapers on campus. I get the sense that, at least there, it’s not just about turnout in and of itself, but really about the sentiment that everybody has a political opinion and that everyone is equally interested in voting, whether they are “politically active” or not.

Unlike in some other countries where citizens may vote on a referendum on a national level, we only have the chance once in a while to make our voices heard nationally. With voters in many states breaking decade-long turnout records and with the tripling and quadrupling of young voter turnout in many states in Tuesday’s primaries, I wonder if we’re coming to a time where, excited about our choices or not, we think of voting as a responsibility more than a privilege granted to us. Voting should be exhilarating and something to be proud of, but it shouldn’t feel like some incredible feat.

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