It’s no secret that a primary indicator of a democracy’s health and functionality is a high percentage of citizens participating in the political process. After all, how can elected officials accurately represent and govern if the country’s citizens are not picking them?
The simple answer is that it can’t — not accurately, anyway. Democracy requires near-constant care and maintenance for it to continue to work as it should.
As of Wednesday, the winner of the 2020 presidential election has yet to be decided, but voter turnout skyrocketed in the United States. Even if the overall numbers aren’t where they should be, this is a milestone still worth celebrating.
An estimated 67% of eligible voters cast their ballots in this election, which is the highest turnout for an election in over 100 years. In 2016, 60.1% of eligible voters cast their ballots, nearly a 9% point increase from the 58.6% turnout in 2012, according to Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida and the administer of the United States Election Project.
Regardless of who or what these votes are going for, this is a significant improvement. However, there are more ways that this can be bolstered — starting with making voting easier, as opposed to inexplicably creating more obstacles.
To raise voter participation, there needs to be consideration for automatically mailing ballots to all citizens’ homes, abolishing voter ID laws and implementing automatic voter registration.
This year in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order ensuring that voters are automatically mailed a ballot, even if they ultimately decided to vote in person. Shockingly, during a year haunted by the coronavirus pandemic, California was the first state in the nation to do so.
This order should be mandated nationwide, to build on the momentum of record numbers of early voting this year, whether there is the imminent threat of an infectious and potentially deadly virus or not.
There are also 36 states that currently require some form of identification in order to vote. This is a strange requirement considering that voting is a right for every citizen in this country, according to the U.S. Constitution.
The alleged purpose of voter ID laws is to prevent fraudulent votes from being cast. However, the alleged prevalence of voter fraud has been debunked numerous times. If there is no fraud to prevent, then the only thing that voter ID laws seem to do is prevent disenfranchised people from voting if they don’t carry an ID with them. Turning away voters because they don’t carry a piece of plastic that has almost nothing to do with their status as an American citizen is unjust.
This is the antithesis of a healthy and functional democracy, and it needs to be eradicated on a nationwide level.
If the country is going to continue seeing improvements in voter participation, it’s time for automatic voter registration to become a nationwide policy. Getting out the vote is hard enough without the unnecessary step of registering to vote. As many as 16 states are already on the right track toward automatic voter registration, but it still needs work.
All of these aspects of improving voters’ rights don’t guarantee that more people will participate in the electoral process, they should be done regardless.
The U.S. electoral system is flawed, but making our democracy better is our job. Encouraging more people to vote, regardless of who or what for, is the first place to start.