The United States has a long history of terrible voter turnout.
The voter turnout as a percentage of the voting age population (VAP) since 1992 has been: 58% (1992), 51% (1996), 54% (2000), 60% (2004), 62% (2008) and 57% (2012). This compares to countries like Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom which had turnouts around 70%.
It is not that people are apathetic about the outcomes of elections; they just realize that their votes do not matter.
In the US, presidential elections are not based on the popular vote, where every single vote counts. The outcome is awarded by electoral votes, where every state has a set number of electoral votes as roughly determined by the population in the state, in a winner-take-all formulation. Therefore, if a state is a virtual certainty of voting for a Democrat (say California) or for a Republican (like Texas), it makes no difference if any individual casts a ballot. It is therefore possible that a state like Texas can have as few voters as Minnesota, but the 55 electoral votes for Texas would still be cast for the Republican, even as Minnesota only awards its pre-determined 10 electoral votes.
There is a way to get people to participate in the elections, and it does not entail making it mandatory, as is done in Australia.
This proposal is to INCENTIVIZE people to vote by weighing the electoral votes by the percentage of people that vote in the state.
If a state has less than half of the population casting a ballot, that state would only get 50% of the predetermined electoral votes. For every 2% of the VAP that participates in the election, another 10% of the electoral votes would count, up to 58% of the VAP, when 100% of the electoral votes would be counted.
|Percent of VAP||Percent of Electoral Votes|
|Less than 50%||50%|
|50% to 51.9%||60%|
|52% to 53.9%||70%|
|54% to 55.9%||80%|
|56% to 57.9%||90%|
|58% and above||100%|
Consider Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes. In the 2012 presidential election, it had a 57.8% VAP turnout (5,596,499 votes out of a voting age population of 9,677,000). According to this proposal, Pennsylvania would have only gotten 90% of its electoral votes, or 18 instead of the full 20. The shortfall of 16,161 voters (which would have brought it to 58%) would have netted the state 2 important electoral votes.
This formulation incentivizes everyone in the state to vote, and everyone in the country to care about each state. No state would be considered “secure,” as the drive to get every American to participate in the democratic process would be critical.
A great example is New York, with its 29 electoral votes, which has been a lock for almost every Democrat (as opposed to Pennsylvania which is a “swing” state). Most New Yorkers (yes, a majority) opt to go to work and skip the polls. In 2012, only 6,160,193 people voted, out of the 13,302,000 voting-aged population. Only 46.3%. That’s pathetic. This formula would have penalized the state for the poor turnout, and awarded NY only 50% of the 29 electoral votes, or 15 votes. The loss of 14 votes would have been equivalent to losing the entire states of Wisconsin and Hawaii.
Americans are going out to vote today – in the somber 2016 election – when people have strong dislikes for the candidates. Many will opt to stay home because of that distaste.
Let’s change the current election model, so people don’t withdraw from the democratic process itself.
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