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Voter Turnout: What Keeps Some from the Polls?

By Layla Abdullah-Poulos ’10, student, School for Graduate Studies

October 29, 2015

a truck drives down an empty street strung with candidate posters and flags in a impoverished neighborhoodAs significant as voting is to the country’s political process, a substantial number of eligible voters choose not to go to the polls. According to the United States census bureau (www.census.gov), 61.8 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2012 presidential election, and even fewer (45.5 percent) casted their ballots in the 2010 congressional election. When answering questions about voter participation, dean of the Niagara Frontier Region and mentor in the public affairs area of study Nan DiBello, Ph.D. provided informative and thought-provoking answers to some of our questions regarding common reasons for lower voter participation – including demographics less likely to vote, voters discouraged about the importance of their vote and voter registration procedures.

Are there any particular demographics less likely to vote?

Historically, citizens with lower income, less education and racial minorities in the U.S. are less likely to vote.

…In general, the best predictor of who will vote, as I recall, is years of education – the more educated, the more likely people are to vote.

Many people think their vote doesn’t count. Do you think that is true? 

If peoples’ votes didn’t count, there would not be such an effort in some states to make it more difficult for people to vote. When elections are close, e.g., Bush vs. Gore in 2000, the importance of individual votes is magnified.

Are voter registration procedures and the polling process cumbersome and discourage participation to say adults with multiple responsibilities, minorities, the disabled, people without transportation (typically working-class or impoverished), or the elderly?

In a word, Yes! For these and other reasons, many states have experimented with options, e.g., making voting possible on several days, not a single day in the month. At the same time, there has been a backlash to experimentation, and a strong push for requiring voters to show proof of identify in several states.

What do you think are some ways SUNY Empire students can support and encourage one another to vote? 

First, if you aren’t registered, you can’t vote. Students can support and encourage one another to register and vote. If students live in New York, they must register about a month before elections. Rules for registering vary from state to state and information about registration is readily online. Also, voter registration drives are common, especially in the early fall during years with presidential elections. Some of our students may live in the few states that permit same-day registration, which means citizens can register on Election Day; generally, proof of residence is required.

Second, share information about issues and candidates. It’s as important to engage in thoughtful dialogue about issues and candidates as it is to vote. Democracy is about engagement, not just showing up to cast a ballot.

As DiBello’s answers indicate, voter participation continues to be a critical topic in national, state and local politics. Thus, it is crucial for Empire State College students to consider their vital role as voters.

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