One of the hot potatoes in any election season is whether or not one party or the other supports increasing the voter base. The Left will claim that the Right is seeking to suppress the number of people who can and may vote, rather than expand the number. The Right argues that the Left is seeking to contort the voting process by opening it up to everyone, legal, illegal, registered, or not registered, and is hell-bent on skewing election results on the local, state, and federal level.
After the smoke has cleared, only two ways to increase voter participation exist, assuming, of course, that we’re talking about valid, registered U.S. citizens who have a legal right to vote in the United States. The best way to increase voter participation is by maintaining or restoring public confidence in the voting process. The second way is by encouraging people to participate.
Restoring Public Confidence vs Forcing Voter Participation
Long before the internet, television, and the mass media conglomerates who rule the airways, a significant percentage of U.S. citizens routinely voted. From 1850 to 1900, what one might call "pre-mass media America," the participation rate of the voting age population hovered above 77 percent.
Contrast that percentage with what has transpired in this century. Since 2000, the participation rate has averaged under 56 percent, a drop of more than 20 percent. One can ruminate as to why the participation rate has tanked: Seeking to thrive in our fast-paced culture, some voters will regard themselves as “too busy.”
Some people will rationalize that, “My vote isn’t really going to matter.” Some who are qualified to vote, haven’t paid attention to candidates or issues. Others regard the system as rigged. In their view, “Why bother?"
Voter I.D. Matters
Restoring public confidence can be achieved by eliminating obvious fraud-friendly loopholes in election law. In true democracies, participation rates rise noticeably, for example, in elections that require voter I.D. This finding might be surprising to many people, but it has been proven time and time again.
States that enact effective voter I.D. legislation experience increases in participation rates among all population groups. And why not? As public trust in the voting process rises, the number of people who decide to get off of their duffs, register, and vote rises as well.
As John Fund, currently the national affairs columnist for National Review magazine and a senior editor at The American Spectator wrote in his book, Stealing Elections, when Indiana enacted effective voter I.D. legislation, black voter participation actually rose. Indeed, states with strict voter I.D. laws can witness greater black voter participation rates in some cases than even white voter participation rates.
When pundits and politicians seek to disparage the value of voter I.D., some legitimate voters tune out of the process altogether. “A political cabal so out of touch with reality that they cannot promote honest elections, discredits our entire democracy, and drives down participation accordingly,"Jay DeLancy, head of the Voter Integrity Project of NC, told me.
To raise the rate of legitimate voter participation, leaders must strive to restore public trust in the process. Most people today understand the need for valid I.D. in nearly every walk of life and they support voter I.D. Funny how that seems to be at odds with dishonest politicians.
Should Every Citizen Vote?
Not all experts on voting and elections agree that greater voter participation is beneficial. Some argue, legitimately, that inducing individuals to cast a vote when they don’t understand the ramifications makes no sense, and doesn’t strengthen democracy.
When parties on the Left or Right, Green or Libertarian, induce otherwise reticent and perhaps under-informed citizens to vote, is the nation served well? In general, greater voter participation is good for the country and for democracy, and greater voter participation works best when such voters are alert, aware, informed, and self-motivated to vote.