Scottish independence turnout puts U.S. voters to shame
Eighty-five percent. That’s the record turnout in the referendum on Scottish independence. You want to know what the best turnout in modern U.S. history has been for U.S. voters? Sixty-five percent in 1976.
“Robust voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” says an analysis from Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that “educates and enlivens discourse on how best to remove the structural barriers to a democracy that respects every voice and every vote in every election,” according to its website.
The turnout in Scotland was indeed, a record. Some small communities had 100 percent turnout. The lowest overall turnout seemed to be in the city of Glasgow, which had 75 percent turnout — still a figure that dwarfs the turnout of U.S. voters.
So what’s wrong with us, and what can we do to make it better?
Voter turnout in what are considered established democracies around the world averages 70 percent. In the United States, voter turnout for presidential elections averages 60 percent, and turnout for midterm elections averages 40 percent, according to the Fair Vote analysis. In 2012, U.S. voter turnout was nearly 58 percent, and in 2010, turnout was less than 41 percent.
And that turnout is gargantuan compared with turnout in local municipal elections. According to a study in Urban Affairs Review, “turnout in city elections may average half that of national elections, with turnout in some cities regularly falling below one-quarter of the voting-age population.”
Don’t forget that in Ferguson, Mo., the scene of so much protest after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, a majority of the town’s citizens are African-American, yet the city council has just one black member, and the school board is all white except for a Hispanic member. Turnout in Ferguson’s last election was 12 percent. As the Rev. Al Sharpton told the residents of Ferguson, “Twelve percent is an insult to your children.”
Somehow, I think the voter turnout is going to be a lot higher in Ferguson by the time the next election rolls around — voters there now have a reason to be energized (and also to run for office). But what can we do in the rest of the country?
Fair Vote has some ideas that are worth considering, also included in its analysis: Universal voter registration, which would modernize registration structures and make the government responsible for maintaining accurate and complete voter rolls, taking the process out of partisan hands. A national popular vote for president, which would discount the importance of swing states in the Electoral College and make every voter in every state feel like he or she can cast a vote that matters.
Here’s another idea: Make election day a national holiday, like it is in many other countries. That way, people won’t have to worry about missing work or having a paycheck docked just for casting a ballot.
And a note to the Republicans, who fear that their shrinking voter base spells future doom: You’ve been passing voter photo ID laws, cutting early voting days, closing polling stations, making it harder to register, and backing voter intimidation goon squads like True the Vote, all in the name of fighting virtually nonexistent “voter fraud.” According to the website VoterFraudFacts.com, between 2000 and 2010, there were 649 million votes cast in general elections, and only 13 cases of actual in-person voter impersonation — the only kind of electoral fraud that would be stopped by voter ID laws. That’s THIRTEEN cases over ten years. These voter-suppression tactics may be disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters in certain states. So, GOP, you may win some elections now, but you’re going to lose in the long run. You know what might work? Quit living in the past and start backing some policies that attract new voters and new kinds of voters. It’s OK to appeal to more than just embittered old white guys.
So do your part. Vote. When you’re online, take a few less of those Buzzfeed polls on what kind of Disney villain you are or where you should really live, and instead, check out the websites of your preferred candidate — and his or her opponent. You’ll learn more about who you’re voting for and against, and you’ll gain ammunition for the next time you get into a political discussion with a friend, neighbor, or relative. You may even change your mind.
Voting is a right. Voting is a privilege. But more than anything, voting is a responsibility. Don’t let those “likely” voters control who gets elected. Let’s all be likely voters.
And the best thing is — we can do it without haggis.