Why don’t people vote? Generally, the answer is Americans lack civic pride or think elections are unimportant. Yet is this the truth? Is this the reason that 42.5 percent of eligible voters stayed home in 2012. And what about that phrase: “Stayed home?” Is that really what they were doing?
Voting is in many ways still a privilege. In 2012, just under half of those making under $20,000 a year voted.
Compare this to voters with household earnings of $75,000 or higher. Of these higher earners, 78 percent showed up to vote.
These numbers are even starker in a non-presidential election cycle. In 2014, less than a third of those making less than $20,000 a year voted. More than half of those making more than $75,000 voted.
Lower turnout is linked to lower income. Is it because lower-income Americans care less about their country, or is it because they lack opportunity to make their voices heard?
Voter ID laws are active in 17 states. They require voters to prove who they are at the polls, but getting an ID can cost as much as $58.50 in some states.
There’s also a reason the government has never required an ID until recently. After enforcing voter ID requirements, Alabama shut down DMVs in Black communities. This means, in some communities, it is now a multi-hour drive simply to get their IDs. For those working full-time, with families, or working multiple jobs, such a trip becomes unrealistic.
Federal courts have now ruled many of these laws disproportionately target or effect Black, Asian, and Latino communities. They’ve also shown very little voter fraud in the first place; the most comprehensive investigation yet found 31 confirmed instances of fraud in the last one billion ballots cast.
Of the 52 percent of individuals making less than $20,000 who didn’t vote in 2012, more than half of them cited work or transportation issues as the reason they didn’t vote.
It makes little sense elections aren’t held on the weekend, or why Labor Day or Columbus Day are federal holidays while Election Day is not. (Or why Washington’s Birthday is never held on Washington’s actual birthday, but that’s another matter entirely.) If you’re looking for candidates who support making election day a federal holiday, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders support this.
The truth is, staging elections around a regular workday precludes those who have less leisure time to start. This is exacerbated by:
More than 10 million people waited longer than half an hour to vote in 2012. This occurs disproportionately in lower-income areas, which are often not afforded the resources by their state legislatures to hold elections properly. It is an effective form of voter suppression – lower-income voters do not have the luxury of taking hours from their work or home life in order to vote.
This is one reason so many are pushing systems like vote-by-mail, and why so many others are resisting it. Nearly 3-in-10 voters now votes via a non-live system, and that number will only increase in the future. However, this can be frustrated by:
Living below the poverty line also makes it more likely a person will move. This is a population of renters, not homeowners, and moving requires regular re-registration in new jurisdictions. If you’ve ever tried to get your mail after moving, you’ll probably also realize states aren’t the best at accommodating moves. MIT estimated that 1.2 million votes were lost in 2012 because of such registration problems.
Among those who didn’t turn out to vote in 2012, 11 percent identified as being unable to vote due to illness or disability. There is simply no mechanism in place to aid these voters. Again, this disproportionately effects lower-income voters who lack the resources to mitigate their illnesses or disabilities.
Tragically, this means veterans are disproportionately effected. If you’re injured or traumatized protecting our right to vote, you are currently provided no real aid to cast your own vote later in life.
Nearly a quarter of non-voters polled by the Census Bureau in 2014 cited their reason as simply not being interested, or disliking the candidates and issues. That’s less than half the number who can’t make it because of work, disability or income-related demands. Yet we consistently pose disinterest as the main reason Americans decide not to vote. This frames the poor as lazy, instead of working so hard they don’t have the time to even vote.
The numbers who cite disinterest pale in comparison to the numbers who cite work-related, health-related or income-related reasons for not voting.