Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The voter turnout conundrum in America

Photo: Cayusa

Voter turnout is one of the main concerns of every electoral body when it comes to its democratic exercises. As stated in FairVote.org, a high voter turnout is an indicator of a healthy democracy, which is why every time there is an election there is also a wave of complaints about the low participation rate. However, believe it or not, the highest turnout in an American election was achieved in 1876 (81.8%), and even then we could not speak of real democratic participation, as women and members of the black community did not have the right to vote. This means that absenteeism is not a new problem in our society. What could be new, though, is the way to address it.

Many hypotheses have been offered on the cause for theseemingly unchanging electoral absenteeism in America. Francis Fukuyama affirms that the welfare state has made people comfortable, causing them not to vote. Others say technology is to blame, as people are excessively entertained by the gadgets they keep at home. Well, if technology is the enemy, why not use it to our advantage?

What analysts are deeming as ‘excessive comfort’ may actually be the sign that things have to change in order to engage people into democracy, as we are no longer the same citizens that voted in 1876. Our way of life has changed radically. No one would call us too comfortable or lazy because we don’t grow our own food or sew our own clothes. Our modern lifestyle demands speed and accessibility.

Over the years, manual voting has proved tremendously cumbersome. Identity theft remains rampant, printing errors in the paper ballots cost the government millions of dollars and cause people to vote mistakenly, and people with disabilities find it very difficult to cast their ballot. The 21st century has seen us adopt different automation mechanisms for other aspects of our life, so why not adopt them for democracy?

With its usability, accessibility and speed, e-voting comes out as the natural solution to the question of how to stop wrestling against technology to increase voter turnout. Venezuela, for instance, got an 80% voter turnout in its 2012 presidential elections, which were fully automated. Besides, the complete auditability of electronic voting platforms eliminates electoral fraud and boosts its reliability. 

The voter turnout conundrum is actually not a mystery at all. With technological tools available to encourage electoral participation and the acknowledgement from the President himself that waiting times for voting in the US need improvement, there is access to a solution that can help strengthen democracy by giving citizens an effective tool that will motivate them to exercise their right to vote easily and smoothly.