Looking back at our recent voting history can be unnerving: of the total voter eligible ballots counted in 2014 (a non-presidential election), only 63.3% of the voter eligible population voted, a 72-year low. Put another way, approximately 143 million people did not vote. In the last presidential election in 2016, nearly 92 million eligible people did not vote. You can take some steps to encourage your residents to vote this year for the 2020 elections. We are happy to share our research findings with you. Read on for seven proven methods to help increase voter participation.
Educate Young People on Their Civic Duty to Vote.
One way to improve voter participation of young adults is through education. KIDS Voting USA is an education model used in the Kansas schools. A study found that 18 year-old Kansans involved in the KIDS Voting USA program voted at rates 2.1% higher than those not in districts incorporating the model into their school curriculum. Interestingly, the program resulted in higher participation rates for their parents, too.
Voting barriers exist for Americans with disabilities and for minorities for whom English is a second language. Where English is a second language, the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions to provide voter registration forms, instructions, and ballots in languages other than English. The act also provides that language-challenged voters may choose from whom they will receive their language assistance as long as it is not their employer. Native Americans cite language problems as a barrier to voter participation. Jurisdictions with residents who face limited English proficiency should take steps to ensure that poll workers are aware of these federal requirements and require that polling places have translated materials. It is also important to make sure that residents who don't speak English have access to voting information in their language, so they are aware of how, when, and where to vote.
Getting to the polls is a problem for disabled Americans as many polling centers do not have available transportation. In addition, polling places may have:
- ramps that are difficult for wheelchair bound voters to navigate,
- insufficient handicap parking, or
- poor signs denoting handicap accessible entry.
Addressing these issues before election time may be a challenge but, if modifications are successful, should increase voter participation.
Modernize Voter Registration.
Here are four ways to reach voters where they live in today's hectic and increasingly digital world.
- Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). Automatic Voter Registration takes place when people use state motor vehicle department services. March 2015 saw Oregon become the first state to register voters in this "opt-out" version of voter registration. California followed in October 2015 and, in November, 2019, California's Secretary of State released a report showing that 80.65% of eligible California residents have registered to vote. This is California's highest voter registration rate since 1952.
- Same-Day Voter Registration. States that have same-day voter registration policies, including registration on election day, show an average 5% increase in voter participation and consistently produce the highest participation rates in the country. As of June 2019, same day voter registration is legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia.
- Online Voter Registration. As of October 25, 2019, 37 states permit online voter registration. Registrants fill out a digital form on an internet site which is then submitted to election officials. States verify the digital registration information by comparing it to information provided when the person applied for a state driver's license or state identity card.
- Voter Pre-registration for high school juniors and seniors. Florida allows voter pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds. Its experience has shown that its pre-registered young people vote at a 4.7% higher rate than those registered at age 18.
Improve Voting Ease and Opportunity.
Some states have instituted no-excuse absentee voting and vote-at-home centers. Experts predict that no-excuse absentee voting will increase voter participation by 3% over time. Colorado's vote-at-home centers increased voter participation by 9%. The vote-at-home system means the post office delivers ballots to every eligible registered voter two weeks before the election. The voter then completes the ballot and returns it to election officials by mail or drop-off at vote-at-home centers.
Improve Voter Knowledge of Election Issues.
Communicating with voters periodically during election season encourages an informed voter response at the polls. The following brochures are helpful in this regard:
- explanations of state constitutional amendments requiring voter approval, indicating the effect of a "no" vote vs the effect of a "yes" vote;
- explanations of local tax issues and bond issues that will require voter approval;
- a sample ballot showing precisely how the voting machine or paper ballot will word the various ballot initiatives; and
- explanations of the rules with respect to a voter's right to participate in applicable early voting, absentee voting (whether its "no-excuse" or requires specific reasons), and in-home voting methods (including when, where, and how to obtain such voting materials).
Integrated Voter Engagement.
The Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE) movement trains local leaders to identify and advocate issues important to the community and to organize that community to vote to improve those matters. Grassroots organizations work with church leaders, youth groups, union leaders, and social service agencies to target underserved populations and motivate them to vote in order to effect change on issues of pressing concern to their community.
Comply with National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
NVRA requires every state to offer voter registration during visits to motor vehicle department, social service agencies, and other government officials. NVRA requires states to accept voter registration by mail. Low-income Americans registered to vote topped at 43.5% in 1992, the year Congress passed the law. After NVRA was in effect for 20 years, the participation rate for low-income Americans rose to 52.7%, showing compliance with the NVRA has a positive impact on voter participation rates.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, read the 2018 report from nonprofitvote.org entitled "America Goes to the Polls 2018." States." This free, downloadable report ranks all 50 states by their voter turnout and voter policies that have an impact on voter participation.