Have you ever struggled to respond to friends or family who justify not voting by insisting their vote doesn't matter? The civic value of voting can be tough to capture, which is why we at FairVote are excited to see Demos' latest research on the subject.
In a new report entitled Why Voting Matters, disparities in turnout are connected to unequal representation, particularly in regards to economic issues. Basically, it’s not just about whether or not your candidate wins, because whether or not they are elected, those who turn out to vote at all are more likely to be represented by the winning candidate.
Young people, lower income brackets, and racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to this inequity. Their turnout rates are dwarfed by their older, wealthier, and whiter counterparts. For example, in the 2014 elections over half of those earning $150,000 or more voted, whereas only one fourth of those earning less than $10,000 did. This type of disparity results in elected officials crafting policies that are often not representative of the entirety of their constituency and instead favoring the preferences of those who voted.
This raises the important question of how to fix the voting imbalance. As noted by the report’s author in a Policy Mic brief, “To boost voter turnout, registration remains a key barrier.” Lowering the barriers for registration by implementing early registration for teens or even automatic registration would shift the paradigm from our current “opt-in” system to a more inclusive “opt-out” one. Beyond registration, we must change our electoral systems to also engage non-voters by empowering their ballot in new ways.
Rather than continuing with a first-past-the-post system, shifting to ranked choice voting (RCV) would give voters the freedom to pick the candidates they really like and vote their conscience without increasing the chances of their least favorite candidate being elected. Research also indicates that RCV lessens the incentive for negative campaigning, another point of contention that keeps non-voters disengaged.
Above all, the future of a representative democracy depends on widespread political participation. This is not about party politics or electing certain candidates. It’s about achieving a mandate that is representative of the people, and every single vote matters in that effort.