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  The Chatter Box : Blathering On
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Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by canaveralgumby on 5 November 2006 11:32pm
By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press Writer Sun Nov 5, 12:31 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Government of the people, by the people, will be missing a lot of people Election Day.

It's a persistent riddle in a country that thinks of itself as the beacon of democracy. Why do so few share the light?

Compare U.S. voting with foreign voting and it's not a pretty sight. Americans are less apt to vote than are people in other old democracies, in new ones, in dangerous places, dirt poor ones, freezing cold ones, stinking hot ones and highly dysfunctional ones.

Even that theocratic "axis of evil," Iran, has bragging rights over the United States in this regard. So does chaotic Iraq, where an estimated 70 percent of voters cast ballots in December parliamentary elections.

The pitched battle for control of the House and Senate in Tuesday's election has raised hope that voting will rise above its usual anemic levels. But competitive races are not reliable predictors of turnout and doubts exist about whether Republicans will be as fired up as Democrats and whether independents will vote with their feet or their seat.

As in other aspects of American life, the people who run elections work to make things easier for everyone. Yet they achieve little more than blips in increased turnout, if that.

Participation, paradoxically, is highest in states where making it to a polling station can be misery on a wintry day. Minnesota, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming are among states that lead the nation in getting voters out, and they put the Sunbelt to shame.

About 40 percent of U.S. citizens of voting age population cast ballots in nonpresidential year elections.

Despite the competitive nature of the 2000 presidential race and the certainty of having a new chief executive no matter who won, just more than half turned out. In 2004, a polarized year when everyone remembered the near dead heat four years earlier, turnout climbed over 60 percent edging a little closer to the likes of Iran, Iceland and Somalia.

Some of the best states for voter turnout have conveniences such as same-day registration. But it is their culture of civic engagement that is most credited for their relative success. The expansion of absentee voting in many states has yet to produce a clear spike in overall participation.

Curtis Gans, who has been studying the riddle for three decades, says making voting easier does little to make people vote. "We know that it isn't procedure because we've constantly made procedure easier and voter turnout has gone down," he said.

Nor is it demographics.

The population today is more educated, older and less mobile than in the past all things that should steer people to the voting booth. But that does not happen.

Gans' diagnosis: lack of motivation.

Blame the politicians, in part:

_the attack campaigning casting the choice as one between bad and worse;

_the lack of clearly defined choices on issues;

_the string of deviousness or wrong turns over the years "I am not a crook," "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," "
Saddam Hussein ... continues to develop weapons of mass destruction."

And blame people and their culture, too.

"We've had the fragmenting and atomization of our society," Gans said, driven by the 500-channel TV culture, the interstate, strip malls, abandonment of farms and the rise of the Internet. "All of those things have undermined community."

Gans is director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University.

A recent AP-Pew poll looked at the 45 percent of the population that can be characterized as nonvoters because these people rarely vote even though most are registered.

Most broadly, the poll found that nonvoters are not just disconnected from politics, but also from their communities. Nonvoters were less likely to trust others, to have a strong support network of friends and family or to know their neighbors than regular voters were.

Among those who were unregistered, only 14 percent said it was complicated to register where they live. Most had not done so because they lacked the time, had not gotten around to it, had no confidence in politicians or just did not care.

The United States lags about 130 countries in voter participation. Discount ones that enforce compulsory voting laws fewer than a dozen and America's standing hardly improves.


EDITOR'S NOTE Trevor Tompson, manager of AP news surveys, contributed to this story.
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by Ellerd on 6 November 2006 12:54am
We don't have this problem here in Australia - compulsory voting. You don't vote, the AEC tracks you down and slaps you with a fine. Although it may sound undemocratic to force people to do an activity most would prefer not to, I can see the positive to it: the elected government is a fairer representation of the people. Is it true that the Republican Party is better at encouraging its supporters to vote than the Democrats?
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by tucsonmike on 6 November 2006 1:27am
Historically, the U.S. has had low turnout. The Republicans try to discourage EZ voter registration. The South traditionally has had lower voter turnout. More and more, it is the really juiced up, who vote.
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by canaveralgumby on 6 November 2006 2:59am
I have to agree with the article's premise - the negativity, the mud-slinging, the lying, the feeling that our choices are between "bad" and "worse" - that's what repels people from the process.

There os so very little dialog, so very little actual information available.

In Florida, for instance, we have a sugar growing industry. The sugar growers are corrupt and have had Florida politicians in their pockets for more than a century. They don't USE migrant farm workers, they ABUSE them. They dump nitrates and all manner of run-off into the ground, endangering drinking water.

SO! I am trying to find out what our candidates for Agriculture Commissioner have to say about this, and by whom they are endorsed. The Agriculture Commissioner (at least here) not only oversees agriculture, but also consumer affairs.

I have emailed my state's PIRG and the Sierra Club about it, after failing to find newspaper endorsements, transcriptions of debates, or ISSUE STATEMENTS on the candidates' own websites! I'm doing exhaustive research about this!

How many people do you think are bothering? Especially when REAL information is so hard to come by?
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by Louise on 6 November 2006 3:25am
Ellerd, I knew of the Australian compulsory voting system. Please don`t think me rude, but isn`t it a waste of time? People can always spoil their voting slip so what`s the point? You can lead a man to the ballot box but you can`t make him vote.

Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by intrepid on 6 November 2006 12:56pm
I worked for the Monroe County (N.Y.) Board of Elections one year, cleaning and setting up the voting booths. I was given the impression that, in that county, anyway, the turnout for local candidates dwarfs the turnout for national ones. There seems to be less voter apathy at the local level.
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by kazzzz on 6 November 2006 1:31pm
Lots of people do that Louise, and a lot of people get off the fine by citing religious reasons or medical ones. It probably gets more people to the polls I suppose, the only reason I go is because I have to! They're all liars anyway.
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by Lounge Trekker on 7 November 2006 2:25am
'Good candidates might not get elected if you vote, but poor candidates might get elected if you don't vote.' Or something like that...

I think the voter turnout nation-wide in Canada is similar to that in the U.S.. It is difficult to keep a positive view on something like this, and we lose many people to the irritated, apathetic crowd. I really don't think it matters if you vote or not, but if you're going to complain about 'the government' you really ought to vote.

Yeah, they all lie to get elected. What actually happens is another story. I still have to pay taxes to help pay for these guys, so I make sure I use up my vote.

In Canada, we usually elect a benevolent dictator and they call it 'democracy'. We are enjoying a minority government these days so the governing party has to be more co-operative with the other parties to ensure the government isn't voted out.

It seems to the sardonic side of me that the elected members of parliament consider their political survival more important than the rest of us.

It's not very efficient but it is still better than some other forms of the powerful controlling the rest of us.

Lounge Trekker
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by Lounge Trekker on 7 November 2006 2:37am
see above
Re: Why do so few people vote in the U.S.? by canaveralgumby on 7 November 2006 4:55am
That's what America needs - other parties.
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