America Needs Greater Voter Participation Essay

1899 words - 8 pages

Government and Politics – America Needs Greater Voter Participation

We may live in a country that encourages voting in political elections, yet the level of voter turnout in America is relatively small and continues to decline. Compared to other countries with democratic governments, the United States falls very near the bottom of the list with its percentage of voter participation. One explanation for this disturbing phenomenon states that the American system requires more effort from voters, asking them to participate in “more elections for more levels of government with more elective offices at each level than any other country in the world” (Schudson 159). In most other democracies, the citizens may be asked to vote only 2 or 3 times over a 4-year period (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 246).

American voters feel overwhelmed by all that is asked of them. The diverse and numerous elections held in the United States, especially at the state and local levels try the attention spans of voters and decrease their willingness or desire to participate. Reading the local election ballot and trying to determine the actual function of the various obscure local offices such as county clerk, court clerk or register of deeds can be a daunting task. Extracting real meaning from the political jargon used in wording local propositions can also be a challenge and source of discouragement (Schudson 156). Dr. Bill Lyons, of the University of Tennessee, said this of Tennessee state and local elections: “In Tennessee, we also have a very long ballot with a lot of constitutional offices and we have an awful lot of elections. I think that’s bad because it unnecessarily splits the time and attention of voters” (Flessner 2).

Americans also lack the same sort of political stimulus as exists in other countries. Many European governments operate under a proportional system of representation, which allows the percentage of the popular vote obtained by a party to determine the percentage of seats that party occupies in the legislature. This encourages the formation of several parties to represent specific interests and generally, the wider the selection, the higher the turnout rate (Edwards, Wattenber, and Lineberry 208). For example, the American presidential election of 1992, when Ross Perot ran as the candidate for the Reform Party, turnout levels increased (Teixeira 149).

The threat of large, influential socialist parties in many European democracies increase their incentive to vote. When the decision has to be made between conservative or socialist control of the government, the “consequences for redistribution of income and the scope of government are far greater than the ordinary American voter can conceive of” (Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry 246).

Some countries manufacture incentives by imposing fines on those eligible voters who do not show up at the polls. Most Americans would consider an imposition of this sort extremely...

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