I mailed my absentee ballot back to Virginia this week. It took all of ten minutes to open, fill out, seal and drop off in the blue mailbox outside of the Union Building.In a country where voting rights continue to be infringed upon, I’m lucky to have it that easy.
At first glance, voter turnout in the United States seems stronger than ever. According to the Pew Research Center, 62.8% of the voting-age population voted in the 2020 presidential election, while 47.5% of the voting-age population voted in our last midterm elections in 2018 — the highest voter turnout of the 21st century and the highest midterm turnout in four decades, respectively.
However, when we compare U.S. voter turnout to that of 49 other countries in recent elections, the United States only ranks 31st. Some of the countries ranked above us have laws that make voting compulsory, with penalties for not showing up to the polls for elections. But many of them, like us, don’t — so what’s the true excuse for lower voter turnout in our country?
Voting in the United States is largely self-determined. Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of automatic voter registration — a system that has been shown to result in higher voter turnout — leaving the majority of states with complex or confusing registration processes that can seem daunting to many potential voters. All of these factors mean that our voting pool is fairly self-determined, which makes turnout easier to suppress.
If you don’t believe me, here are some of the ways in which voting rights have been restricted — especially for people of color or people with disabilities — in the last decade:
Texas now automatically rejects mail-in ballots if voters use a different ID number in their ballot than the one they registered to vote with. Texas’ March primary rejected one out of every eight mail-in ballots, largely as a result of this new law, according to local officials.
An Alabama law in place since 2014 requires voters to present one of 12 forms of photo ID to vote. In 2015, 31 motor vehicle offices — distributors of three of the most common types of the required photo ID — were closed across the state, disproportionately impacting counties with majority-minority populations and resulting in the suppression of Black voters, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Currently, the Republican National Committee and the Arizona GOP is engaged in two lawsuits seeking to shorten poll worker shifts in Arizona.
There are many, many more examples — more than 390 proposed bills across 39 states currently have the potential to restrict voting access.
And if your initial response to this issue of voter suppression is that “this doesn’t affect me” — it does. We go to college in Indiana, in which the recently redrawn district maps for the 2022 elections exhibit “historically extreme levels” of Republican bias, according to political scientist Christopher Warshaw.
Your vote won’t be the single determining factor in who becomes your local legislator, or which party controls the House or the Senate. But no one can tell you that it doesn’t matter. Voting is an integral component of our societal structure; the chance to say “I choose” and to have what might seem like a minuscule, insignificant say in our country’s laws and legislation is not one that should be taken lightly.
The voter registration deadline for Indiana has passed, but if you are registered, I hope that you take the time to go to the polls on Tuesday.