Where have all the voters gone?
For the past 40 years, voter participation has steadily declined to radically low numbers. With this in mind, professor Thomas E. Patterson and his team of researchers at Harvard University conducted the study “The Vanishing Voter,” which was the focus of a lecture that took place Wednesday in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center.
The study focused on the 2000 Presidential election, and included interviews with 100,000 adult voters at random throughout the election year. Patterson and his researchers were interested in what was driving voter participation down.
“The goal (of the team of researchers) was to find out if the public was paying attention to the presidential campaigns, and if so, -(was the public) getting involved (and) what was the public doing?” Patterson said.
Patterson discovered that the public is becoming unresponsive because of the long, 12- month campaigns most presidential hopefuls drive.
“Voter interest doesn’t rise steadily, but rises and wanes from time to time,” Patterson said. “Younger voters, especially, are less involved, less informed and less interested.”
So how does Patterson want to resolve this serious political problem?
Patterson said the major networks — not just cable news channels — need to broadcast more presidential debates.
He added that when networks uniformly cover debates, the chance of voters watching them would increase.
“Election Day registration needs to be implicated at the voting booths, as well,” Patterson said.
So far, only six states: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Idaho and Maine, offer immediate registration to adults at the booths, which increases voter turnout by 15 percent.
Florida adds to this problem, he said, by closing its voting booths early, preventing many people from voting. According to Patterson’s research, the rule was initially applied to keep lower class individuals from voting many years ago and the early closing hours are still keeping many blue-collar voters away.
Patterson said another productive idea for increasing voter turnout at elections includes making Election Day, Nov. 4, a national holiday. The day off from work and school would give voters more opportunity to vote, whereas long work and school days have kept some voters from submitting their ballot. Ideally, Patterson and the group of researchers would like to get rid of the Electoral College.
“When candidates believe the votes of the Electoral College are swayed toward a certain candidate, they don’t waste time or money campaigning to those influential states, such as Florida or California,” Patterson said. “Likewise, states with smaller votes in the Electoral College don’t receive any campaigning because candidates aren’t concerned with their votes. The outcome of such reasoning is a less educated, less interested group of voters statewide.”
Freshman Laura Mills, who attended the lecture, said she is surprised about the voter turnout among people her age.
“I registered in high school, and I have always had every intention of fulfilling my civic duty to vote, so I am surprised that many others don’t feel the same way,” Mills said.
“The Vanishing Voter” has big plans for the 2004 Presidential Election. No study will be conducted. However, a Web site dedicated to college students will be launched in time for the election, Patterson said. The Web site will provide information to young adults about how to register to vote, how to get involved with campaigns and who the candidates are. The site can be found at www.vanishingvoter.com.