Even the most apolitical among us is aware that we are in the midst of one of the most polarizing election cycles in our country’s history. Whichever candidate has your vote, one thing is clear: now, more than ever, every vote counts.
It’s the nature of democracy that each individual has a voice and a right to be heard. Voting is how we exercise that right. It is, perhaps, our most cherished right, our most vital responsibility as citizens. And though most of us would agree, the majority find themselves too busy chauffeuring their kids or picking up the dry cleaning to make it to the polls. Just how apathetic are we? The election of 1992 garnered the highest number of voters in election history, and only 55% of those eligible bothered to show up. Judging by the buzz surrounding the current contest, I think you can expect that record to be broken, but it will still be a dismal display of democracy in action.
Compared with the rest of the world, America often demonstrates a lesser desire to exercise our voting rights. The site for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance shows voter turnout percentages in countries across the globe, in all national elections from 1946 to the present. A quick glance will show you that America (arguably the cradle of democracy) consistently lags behind most of the world in voter turnout.
Over the years, several ideas have been promoted to address this concern. MTV launched a dramatic campaign called “Rock the Vote” in 1990 that certainly helped boost turnout among younger voters. The campaign continues, and the web site works hard at disseminating credible information without coloring it with opinion. The site helps visitors register to vote and provides detailed information (heavily skewed from a “youthful” perspective) on topics ranging from the economy, healthcare, defense, etc. It’s a great resource for young Americans.
A slightly different perspective, with many of the same tools, can be found on the PBS site, “Why Vote?” Indeed, though the site teems with information important to young and aged voters alike, it has a decidedly more serious approach. Famous speeches and essays throughout history serve as the argument for the democratic right to vote and your responsibility to exercise it. Perhaps most importantly, the site provides links to other resources to help all voters make better informed decisions in this important and contentious election.
The most important of these resources is Project Vote Smart, a site dedicated to inform the electorate. The idea is to provide each candidate for either national or state-wide election a National Political Awareness Test (NPAT) to assess the positions they would take on various issues if elected. Unfortunately, about 30% of the US Congressional candidates and 80% of state legislative candidates in Indiana refused to complete the form, thereby diluting the value of the site by deliberately masking their positions. This site represents a great concept, however, and it’s one that I hope will see more candidate support in the future. After all, it’s up to each of us to become informed voters, and sites like these can help make that process easier. Which, in turn, could help increase voter turnout.