Throughout my life, each presidential election has been a major event in my family. I remember sitting around the coffee table with my mother coloring in the states either red or blue as the results came in throughout the night. It’s a tradition we still carry out to this day. It’s always an exciting occasion as it provides the feeling that on at least that one night, the only thing that matters is the will of the people.
And yet, from the first election I can remember, when George W. Bush’s race was too close to call against Al Gore in 2000, I also remember my mom’s frustration. Often, despite waiting in the cold to fulfill her duty as an educated citizen and cast her vote, she lamented the thought that it was all for naught. Despite her vote for Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and even President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, she would whip out her red crayon before the results were announced and start coloring Texas red. When I asked her why she did this, she replied “Because it’s inevitable.” And, of course, she was right.
So much is made about a citizen’s right to vote. We are regularly told throughout our lives that it is the citizen’s most important duty. And yet, for some reason, millions of people around the country don’t bother. In the 2016 election, which had the highest voter turnout in our nation’s history, only 139 million people out of the 325.7 million that live in the U.S. didn’t vote. Why is that? There are a number of reasons.
Obviously, of those 325.7 million people, not all of them are eligible voters. Many of them are under 18 years old, and unable to vote. Another percentage are convicted felons, who are unable to vote as part of their punishment for committing a crime. And another significant portion is made up of people who simply haven’t registered. We’ll come back to them later. But there are still a huge number of people who have gone through the trouble of registering to vote and simply choose not to.
The United States Election Project estimates that of the percentage of the country that was registered to vote in 2016, only 59.7 percent did so. This number is actually higher than most other elections including 2012, when 58.6 percent cast their ballots and 2000, when 54.2 percent did so. This means that on a regular basis, 40 to 50 percent of the people who do register to vote, don’t. While people may try to argue that there are a number of factors as to why that is, the two main reasons are actually quite simple.
The first is that, like my mom, people feel like their votes don’t matter. In 2016, when President Trump won the election, he actually received over 2.8 million less votes that Hillary Clinton. This was also the case in 2000 when Al Gore received over half a million more votes than President George W. Bush.
Despite these clear margins of victory, as we know neither Clinton or Gore were elected. While I recognize that there are some misguided reasons for advocating for the long-outdated Electoral College system that led to these election thefts, it’s hard to argue that voters in either case had no right to feel disenfranchised.
Of course, even if the Electoral College was abolished, many would still feel discouraged to vote. Another common rationalization for staying home on election day is the often wide berth between the opponents’ support. Often, both conservative and liberal voters in states like Texas and California don’t bother voting because they know their state is going one way or another. Many vote anyway, but even they typically feel as though they are doing so in vain. Yet I think many more would do so if the process itself wasn’t such a pain.
In recent years, we’ve made great strides in making voting easier around the country. Perhaps the greatest of these innovations is the early voting system which has been adopted by 37 states around the country, including Texas. This allows people to avoid the often long lines, particularly in urban areas, that tend to appear on election day, and it’s a great step in the right direction. Yet many still have to drive for miles in order to vote early and not everyone has the time or resources to do so. And considering we live in 2018, armed with all of the technological innovations of the past several decades, this seems like an unnecessary hoop to jump through. But this inconvenience is nothing compared to the greatest crime of our current system: the complicated process of getting registered.
I moved to Henderson at the end of August of this year. By mid-September I had gone online to register to vote and replace my drivers license, thinking that would give me plenty of time to receive my new ID before the election. And while I did get my voter ID card, I never did receive my updated license, even though I paid the $10 necessary to obtain it. Thankfully, I have my old one and it was good enough, along with my voter card and temporary paper license, to get me through the gate to cast my vote on Wednesday afternoon. But what if I had been registering for the first time and didn’t have my old license to fall back on? There’s a good chance I would have been out of luck through no fault of my own.
A U.S. citizen’s right to vote is more than important. It’s sacred. It’s the very foundation upon which our country was founded. But under our current system, there are millions of Americans who never get registered because the process is needlessly slow and complicated. It’s clunky. It’s outdated. It’s invasive. And there are regular attempts being made to make registering to vote harder rather than easier.
Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle reported that more than 2,000 eligible voters in Texas had their registration applications unfairly rejected by the Texas Secretary of State. State officials claimed that voter registration applications required a handwritten signature, a qualification I know for a fact is false because I just went through the process myself. And why would a signature be necessary in the first place? It would, quite frankly, be an idiotic requirement.
The process for voting in this country needs to be made easier, not harder. It needs to be simplified and streamlined through modern applications, rather than thrust through arbitrary qualifications and obstacles that do nothing but disenfranchise eligible voters. Until this happens, we will continue to be led by leaders who are elected by a fraction of the country, rather than the wide swath of eligible Americans who want nothing more than to exercise their right as citizens of the United States.