Why Do Millions of Registered Voters Never Vote?

The 2004 presidential election recorded one of the largest turnouts in recent American politics, as incumbent President George W. Bush defeated challenger Senator John Kerry. That year, 63.8% of registered voters turned out to cast their votes. So, where were the other 36.2% of registered voters?

Millions of Americans readily take for granted their suffrage, their right to vote. I find this disturbing especially for blacks and women who had to wait for so long and fight so hard to win suffrage — the 13th Amendment for blacks; the 19th Amendment for women. There must be reasons why too many Americans don’t vote. What could it be that keeps eligible American voters from taking part in the biggest privilege of democracy?

What is even more mind-boggling is that many Americans actually register to vote, but then still do not turn out to vote on elections day. For example, in the massive turnout of 2004, the number of no-votes was still significant. Registered voters numbered 197,005,000. How many actually voted? The number was 125,736,000. But that 63.8% turnout rate meant a difference of 71,269,000. People, that’s a huge number — more than 71 million registered voters did not vote. It’s even more pathetic than that, because that year, a whopping 215,694,000 Americans could have voted. Using that number, the eligible voters who never voted were 89,958,000!

To be fair, let’s grant that it is likely that on elections day, some of these registered voters might have fallen ill, be injured or attending to family and friends who are ill or injured, may have moved, be in the delivery room, traveling, on vacation, at work and/or working overtime or swing shifts, attending weddings, on their honeymoon, and yes, some would have died before or on elections day, and other registered voters could be attending those funerals. Let’s make room for all that and more.

However, when we minus all the possible contingencies that could keep registered Americans voters away on elections day, we are still left with a substantial number that simply don’t show up for no important reasons. Something happened between voter registration day and elections day that wiped out their interest in casting their ballots.

Pollsters have queried Americans about why they register to vote but do not vote consistently. The reasons are few and really simple.

Busyness is one reason. Some Americans are too busy to vote. “I don’t have time” is a common response. Will it help if Elections Day were a national holiday? Who knows?

For some it’s voter apathy or indifference. “I don’t care.” That’s a voter who has lost interest in politics.

How about voter laziness? Believer it or not, that’s why some Americans don’t get off their blessed assurance to find a voting booth. Remember that voting for president takes place once every four years. Oh, how difficult a chore that must be! To actually crawl of their beds, pad some clothes on their bodies, and find out where to go to vote one time every 48 months!

Another reason is voter cynicism. “It won’t make any difference; nothing will change anyway.” This conclusion may be due to voters’ distrust of politicians: Too many scandals. Run on one thing only to do another; flip flops after Elections Day. Woo voters during elections, then kiss them goodbye after electoral victory. No real solutions to the real problems that concern ordinary people. No real difference between the parties. In the minds of non-voting cynics, after the elections, there will be nothing but new gamers in new game rooms playing the same old political games, leaving the nation’s challenges untouched or the problems made worse by the actions of those very officials of government.

I wager to say that voter cynicism is the primary reason so many registered voters do not vote. It’s not because they’re sick, working, bereaved, getting married, moving, attending Michael’s graduation, or any of those genuine reasons.

But what is the root of such deep-seated cynicism? It may have something to do with the total domination of American politics by the two major parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It seems like the establishment — the political, media, and business interests — combine or connive to sideline, undermine and leave out any independent voice or party. The result is no different from silencing that outside challenge, which is often the lone voice of reason. In the end, the establishment makes the non-partisan whistle blower or challenger appear as non-serious contender, nothing but a spoiler, a sideshow, a laughing stock, a buffoon in the eyes of the American voter. Often the establishment is bold enough to ask that independent-minded candidate, “If you know you can’t win, why are you running? Don’t you know you’ll only take votes away from so-and-so?” In other words, “We ‘the people’ want you to drop the hell out the race, so we can focus on the real candidates.”

Will this establishment culture change in America any time soon? Such a change is needed if we are to see a significant drop in the gap between the nation’s registered voters and actual voters. Every year that I am alive and well in this sweet land of liberty, I’ll choose to vote every time.

What’s your comment?

BOLA TANGKAS