Last week, we had an election. I didn’t vote — Iowa didn’t have any ballot measures this year, and the special election to replace State Sen. Kent Sorensen (Republican, resigned over ethics violations) isn’t until Nov. 19. Off-year elections don’t get a substantial amount of media coverage, and the issues on the ballot tend to be less important (or perceived as such).
Although Iowa specifically didn’t have any major issues to consider, I’ve become increasingly bemused at the concept of putting these important election topics — yes, I think they are important — on off-year ballots. Strike that, I’m becoming frustrated with voting in general.
Voter turnout is incredibly low, even in presidential elections. In 2012, only 57.5 percent of the eligible, voting-age population voted. This level of turnout is pretty standard — we haven’t had more than 60 percent of voters vote since the ’60s. In off-year elections, the turnout is much lower (statisticbrain.com).
To my way of thinking, low voter turnout is a sign of the failure of democracy. A democracy is supposed to be based on the desires of the voters, yet we, by and large, don’t care enough to make it to the polls. A democracy is supposed to enable the people to influence their government, to make it work for them. Yet, we are largely uninformed, and our government works hard to keep it that way.
The latest trend in keeping us uninformed and apathetic is to make it more difficult to vote. In recent years, voter-identification laws have become increasingly complicated, making it harder to know if one has the right type of identification to get a ballot. Several registration laws unfairly target specific groups of people, who frankly (coincidence?) don’t need to be inconvenienced any further by our government.
Texas is the most recent example, with the Republican-led state legislature passing voter-identification laws that require the name on your license to be identical to your legal name. Seems simple enough. We wouldn’t want people voting if we couldn’t verify their identification. But who is this law actually targeting? Young women. As a demographic, young women are the most likely to change their names, as they marry and divorce. Changing your name on your license can be difficult, time-consuming and, in some cases, costly. Changing one’s name doesn’t change one’s identity, legal standing or ability to vote. So does this simple factor really matter?
The answer is yes. The introduction of new voter-identification laws is nearly always correlated with lower voter turnout, as it becomes more difficult to vote. The influx of voter-identification laws across the country would suggest certain politicians have seen this same effect and are taking full advantage of it.