DAVID MAROTTOLO ’22
The right to vote is a fundamental part of democracy. Not only is it the defining aspect of such a form of government, but it functions as an integral part of such a government’s preservation. Accordingly, the right to vote is a privilege that individuals are obliged to act upon, to preserve democracy as a viable form of government. Particularly regarding the current political climate in the United States, with a single political party controlling Congress, the need for engagement among voters is critical. Yet in the 2016 election, only 60% of the United States’ citizens voted. In the 2014 primaries, that number was a disturbing 35.9%. Before diving into the causes of voter apathy, it is important to note that this article is not discussing those individuals or groups who are unable to vote or are prevented to vote through political maneuvering or embedded inequalities in the voting system. That is an equally important issue, but not the focus of this article; rather the intent of this analysis is to focus on those individuals who can vote, but choose not to.
There are two main causes of voter apathy. The first, and perhaps simplest, is laziness. Many individuals simply “can’t be bothered” to vote; for students, time spent in a voting booth could be time spent socializing with friends (or more likely, finishing schoolwork). For adults, voting involves yet more time in a vehicle, travelling to another destination during one’s free time (or taking time off from work). Even mail-in ballots require extra hassle in terms of paperwork to be filled out. It can be difficult to incentivize an activity like voting, one which has no immediate reward or direct benefit to the participant (aside from a free sticker).
The second prevailing cause of voter apathy is the temptation to make assumptions about the results of an election. As the saying goes, it’s easy to “count one’s chickens before they hatch” regarding election results; why should one individual bother to vote, when the winner is apparent? It’s not as if an individual’s vote can affect the results anyway, certainly not now. This type of thinking, the persistent belief that the individual’s vote is inconsequential, has damaging repercussions on the entirety of the voting system. If everyone assumes their vote is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, then no one has any reason to vote.
Finding a solution for this situation is understandably difficult; essentially, the question is how to make citizens care more about the right to vote. Again, it is difficult to incentivize voters with the promise of abstract rewards. As much as the U.S. government values and promotes these rights, it hardly provides substantial motivation to participate in the (frequently aggravating) process of voting. There are some steps that could facilitate the process, however. Secure online voting could be established, allowing U.S. citizens to vote from home or work without having to take time off or detract from their other occupations. Voting could be spread over several days, to reduce wait times at the polls. Even something as simple as businesses compensating workers for time taken off to vote would encourage many more adults in the workforce to vote. These are all achievable steps that the U.S. government could take to reduce voter apathy.