While the United States of America is the richest country in the history of the world — considered a beacon of prosperity and freedom — one only needs to compare its achievements to other first world nations to see the cracks in the facade. This is true for a number of issues: healthcare, prescription drugs, minimum wage, mass shootings, paid family and maternity leave, and paid vacation, to name a few. However, there’s nothing considered more American than the individual’s right to vote, yet this may be the paramount issue of all.
A Pew Research article from 2018 ranking voter participation in “highly developed, democratic states” placed the U.S. in 26th out of 32 nations. This ranking was determined by what percentage of the voting-age population went to the polls and what percentage of registered voters cast a ballot. In November 2016, only 56% of the voting-age population in America went to the polls — approximately 136.8 million out of 245.5 million people. 20.8 million registered voters did not vote, and an additional 120 million unregistered but eligible voters did not participate. Comparing the turnout in 2016 to recent general elections from around the world is mortifying. A few weeks ago, the U.K. saw a voter turnout of 67.3% of the voting-age population; Germany had 69.1% and New Zealand had 75.7% in 2017 while Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium saw voter turnouts in the 80 percentile range in 2014 and 2015. Australia ranked number one in the percentage of registered voters who cast a ballot at a frankly astounding 90.98%.
As much as America touts its love of democracy, there remain insurmountable barriers to that process. Can we all agree that, to encourage voter turnout, the registration and participation process should be as easy and direct as possible? The best way to achieve this directly would be to automatically register an individual to vote once they turn 18 in this country. It’s a position strongly backed by almost all current and former 2020 democratic nominees (billionaire Mike Bloomberg and former Governor of Massachusetts Devel Patrick’s position remains unclear on the topic). To make the voting process more accessible, Election Day needs to be a National Holiday to ensure that every American is equally given the same opportunity to let their voices be heard.
In order to create a fair and just voting system, every individual should be able to cast a ballot and not have to jump through hoops to do it. This should not be a bipartisan issue. Yet Republicans continue to regurgitate the claim that automatic registration leads to ample opportunity to commit extreme cases of voter fraud and impersonation. But the numbers behind their claim don’t add up.
There have been less than 1,000 documented instances and only 31 proven cases of voter fraud since 2000, including the case of 56-year-old Iowan Terri Lynn Rote, who was found guilty of election misconduct and sentenced to two years of probation and a fine of $750 for attempting to vote for Trump twice in 2016. Those 31 proven cases of voter fraud are out of one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014. Billion. With a B. That translates to roughly a one in 32,258,064 chance of voter fraud occurring over that 14 year period. To put that into perspective, you have a one in 10,000 chance of being injured by your toilet, a one in 340,733 chance of being killed by fireworks, a one in 1,000,000 chance of being consumed by a flesh-eating bacteria, and a one in 9,000,000 chance of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime.
Yes, voter fraud exists. But it is a minuscule concern compared to the exceptionally widespread attempts at voter suppression. In August 2019, the Brennan Center for Justice (BCJ) found at least 17 million voters had been purged nationwide from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018. As stated by the BCJ:
While updating registration lists as voters die, move, or otherwise become ineligible is necessary and important, when done irresponsibly — with bad data or when two voters are confused for the same person — the process can knock eligible voters off the roll en masse, often with little notice.
In December 2019, a Republican-appointed judge removed 234,000 voters from the rolls in Wisconsin, and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger purged nearly 309,000 names from the voting rolls. This means that only about 1.3% of the 313,000 voters whose registrations were due to be cancelled were able to get in touch with election officials to prevent it from happening. Just over a week after Georgia’s purge, a federal judge rejected an attempt to restore the registration of 98,000 of those names for individuals who “had not participated in elections since 2012, but either voted or made contact with election officials during the two years prior to that,’’ according to The Hill.
Suppression via purging voter registrations isn’t the only threat to our democracy and elections; there’s also the strict voter ID laws, out-of-date and malfunctioning equipment, and gerrymandering. In case you need a refresher, gerrymandering allows politicians to redraw districts to favor or disadvantage a particular political party by essentially allowing them to choose their own voters. And it’s perfectly legal. Access to polling stations is another on-going issue. In 2013, with a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled crucial parts of the Voting Rights Act, a major piece of legislation created in 1965 to “ensure that state and local governments do not deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on their race, color, or membership in a minority language group.” The devastating vote lead to the closure of 1,200 polling sites across the U.S., disproportionately affecting African American, Native American and Hispanic voters.
At the onset of each new mid-term, primary, and general election, we’re lectured about the great importance of our civic duty and the dire consequences that occur if we do not express our right to vote. Every election has the ability to determine which freedoms and rights people may or may not be afforded — which, let’s be honest, is a heavy burden to bear — but voter suppression and the closure of polling sites can leave many feeling like the system is rigged against them. Some Americans may be losing faith in our democracy — perhaps the most effective way to banish the helplessness and bring those Americans back into the political process is to change the way we ultimately vote.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank their top candidates by preference — if any candidate receives over 50% of the top votes, they’re declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated and those voters’ second preference choices are counted instead, at which point the votes are tallied again. The process continues until a candidate wins an outright majority of the votes cast. This process has the potential to alleviate the stress of a third-party candidate “spoiling” an election. No more claiming the Jill Steins, Gary Johnsons, and Ralph Naders of the world can single-handedly alter elections. It opens up the possibility for a wider diversity of parties to run in elections, so voters are saved from having to pick which candidate they dislike the least.
As ranked choice voting builds momentum across the U.S., voter engagement will swing towards focus on individual candidates instead of party lines. It would encourage voters to seek out a candidate that listens, empathizes, and indisputably understands their struggles. Voters will need to find a candidate that generates energy and excitement for the political process and inspires them to passionately back any number of issues. Whether the voter is poor, working-class, middle-class, upper-class, young, old, privileged, or oppressed, the voter gets to find a candidate who represents them.
If you want to see bold action on the climate crisis, around a living wage, the criminal justice system, human rights equality, free public colleges and universities, housing for all, common sense gun laws, taxes on the extremely wealthy, endless wars, and healthcare as a fundamental human right, it’s up to you to get involved and vote. Your voice matters. And it needs to be heard.
To register to vote (or double-check your registration), please visit www.rockthevote.org