Turnout in local, state, and national elections in the United States has long hovered around a historical mean of 53 percent, since the introduction of the Voting Rights Act. This statistic, and perhaps more worryingly, the fact that never in the history of the United States has the youth voter turnout registered at over 50 percent of eligible voters, means that as a nation as a voting polity, we face a worrying dearth of investment in and legitimacy of our public elections.
This fact is compounded by the lackluster methods by which citizens of the United States go to the polls. The electoral college system has depressed turnout in non-battleground states, with the five lowest states in terms of eligible voter turnout being Hawaii, West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Not a single one of these states was listed as an official target in the campaign plans of the Democratic or Republican candidates.
Furthermore, in moving to a more granular level —that of districts for the House of Representatives — it can be found that competition for these 435 positions is at an all-time low. In the 2016 elections, fewer than 33 of the 435 House races ended with a margin of victory between the top two candidates of 10 percentage points or less. 74 percent of House races were landslides or uncontested.
Fixing this is a daunting, yet not insurmountable task. First, the implementation of second-round elections should be implemented in elections throughout our nation. This method of electoral process, in its most basic form, involves an initial voting stage wherein voters vote for their preferred candidate in the election. If, in this first stage of voting, one candidate does not receive a plurality of votes, the top two vote-getters then proceed to a second electoral contest.
This practice ensures that politicians and political parties build a broad, mandate-ensuring consensus across the entire political spectrum. Even in our two-party political spectrum, the winning candidate in the last eight presidential elections has received an absolute majority only 50 percent of the time. Simply put, the leader of our nation in four of the previous eight elections had a majority of votes cast against them. In no other country that directly elects a single executive is this practice allowed, for runoff voting has been proven to create and maintain more stable democratic governments in the long run.
Second, a redrawing of Congressional districts is a national imperative. In solving this national issue, the removal of redistricting powers from state legislatures is required, followed by the institution of fair redistricting committees so that our electoral maps better reflect the geographic distribution of our nation’s population, rather than dilute a particular political party’s voting base to the advantage of another.
Paradoxically, to implement these necessary changes, the onus is on the individual citizen to vote for these evolutions of public policy. To be clear, everyone has the constitutional right to vote, coupled with the corresponding right to abstain from voting in elections.
The Editorial Board of the Amherst Student encourages you, if eligible, to exercise this constitutional right, for it is not just a constitutional right but a civic duty.
The reasons for this are multitudinous and well-trodden. First, as was elucidated above, if we are to make elections fairer and more representative of the country as a whole, there needs to be a willingness to elect individuals who share this vision.
Furthermore, the Editorial Board reminds specifically the students of Amherst College that we are the citizens of this nation who will inherit the vast majority of the policies enacted by the politicians and officials that are elected. As a result, there exists a vested interest in the exercising of this civic responsibility.
However, more importantly, perhaps, by not voting, we reduce the legitimacy of our cherished democratic institutions and allow our politicians to operate with relative impunity. By not voting, we surrender to our institutions and departments the essential democratic check on their power and encourage them to exist without national and regional responsibility. By voting we exercise our fundamental right and duty to question the machinations of those who hold the reins of power in Washington D. C. and state capitols around our nation. By voting, our governments govern with a real, rather than imagined mandate.
In the most recent national elections, a mere 55 percent of the voting age population of the United States cast a ballot for their preferred candidate. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, this is a national, state and local issue, for in not voting we allow our democratic institutions to continue to serve the few, rather than the totality of our citizenry.