When researching information regarding voter apathy and low voter registration, I was able to narrow down the reason why Americans are not interested in registering to vote to 4 main reasons: disgust with the status quo and the polarizing tone of politics, greater complexity in issues, politics as a taboo and it doesn’t pertain to them.  I will concede that there are many more than I highlight here, but in order to be concise, I wanted to focus primarily on these four as I believe they cover the majority of reasons why eligible voters are not registering to vote.

Disgusted with Politics, the Status Quo and Polarization
There are many reasons why Americans have become disillusioned by the political process but the ones most referenced include: political corruption, career politicians and money in politics. In addition to the feeling that corruption has taken over politics, extreme positions on issues from both the left and the right have made politics less appealing to many eligible voters. The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street etc., make politics too polarizing for most and has become a major turn off for those with moderate positions and beliefs.

Greater Complexity
We live in a world that’s much more complex than every before.  With 24 / 7 news networks and social media constantly bombarding us with the latest “news”, we are being overloaded with more information on a daily basis and it’s become more difficult than ever to take in all of this information and process it. In addition, its extremely time-consuming to try and understand complex public policy issues and pending legislation and to form an educated opinion.

Politics Has Become Taboo
Politics was once a discussion that was had over beers with friends.  But now, we don’t discuss politics at work or at the dinner table and now, many don’t want to discuss politics on social media either.  Political conversation and discourse in the U.S has changed over the years from something we readily discussed in public to something that’s been relegated to “safe areas” so we don’t offend anyone or let our opinions be heard.

Doesn’t Affect Me
One of the chief reasons why eligible voters fail to register to vote is that they don’t feel their vote counts or that it doesn’t personally affect them.  In a USA Today poll, more than 1 in 3 eligible voters stated that they don’t pay attention to politics because it doesn’t make much difference in their life.

How To Get More Registered Voters
As indicated above, the first problem that we have in the U.S. with low eligible voter turnout is that the U.S. needs a higher percentage of registered voters, especially youth voters.

Solutions 

A few ways to overcome the reasons why more people are not registering to vote include making every American feel as though their vote matters, the candidates are not corrupt and that the system isn’t rigged against them.  A few ways to accomplish this include: enacting term limits, the creation of anti-corruption and financial transparency laws and striking down Citizens United.  In addition to making Americans feel as though their vote counts and the system isn’t corrupt, another change that is needed is additional voter registration outreach and making it easier to register to vote.

While some states have already implemented some of these items, states should allow for citizens to register to vote when getting a driver’s license, at the post office or government office and online. In addition to these state registration methods, the Federal government should allow for registering to vote when registering for selective service.

Apathy Discouraging Registered Voters from Voting
Assuming the steps that I outlined above can help to increase the number of registered voters, the next step is how to get those that are registered to turn out on election day.  Most of these solutions involve removing impediments that discourage registered voters from actually voting such as creating a Federal Election Holiday or mandating employers allow for time off of work to vote and making online and mail-in voting easier to do.

Solutions

Create a Federal Election Holiday
In every U.S. election since 1996, the #1 reason registered voters gave for not making it out to the polls was “too busy/couldn’t get time off to vote.” In 2010, 27% of registered voters gave this answer.  As a nation, there have been significant sacrifices made to earn the freedom to vote for our own representative government.  These sacrifices have been made by our Founding Fathers, by Susan B. Anthony and by Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to secure voting rights for every man and woman regardless of color.  Now it’s time that we celebrate our American Democracy, the greatest experiment in politics ever undertaken and make election day a Federal holiday or at least mandate employers allow time off for voting with no repercussions.   Voting on weekends is another option that we should look into if politicians can’t get behind a Federal Election holiday.

Make it Easier to Vote (not harder)
We need to make it easier, not harder for U.S. citizens to vote. With a number of states enacting tougher voter ID laws, there seems to be a movement afoot to make it harder, not easier to vote.  While voter fraud isn’t rampant in the U.S., new laws that make it harder to cast a vote have been put forward in Texas and subsequently struck down.  We need to fight against these laws that disenfranchise those that have a right to vote.

Making the voting process easier should be something that each state should be working on and allow for early voting, mail-in ballots and start the transition to online voting.

Changes to Primary Voting
One of the chief complaints from both sides about the Democratic and Republican primaries was that they were closed and didn’t allow those that were not registered with the party to vote in a specific party’s primary.  What this has accomplished is providing us with two candidates that a majority of Americans haven’t selected as their preferred candidate and that they dislike. Opening up the primaries to independents and those not affiliated with a party will make the candidates that we do choose more representative of a larger percentage of the population and make voters more vested in the candidates they actually voted for.

The Right to Vote
Increasing the number of eligible voters that are registered to vote is the first step to having a more engaged electorate. The second step is removing impediments to voting and getting more registered voters to the polls.  While many Americans may not be satisfied with the choices in the 2016 Presidential election, one thing is for sure… we are going to see a higher turnout than the past few elections due to an interest in Trump’s candidacy and for better or worse, the tone the campaigns have taken.  After all, everyone likes to rubber neck at the scene of an accident and we are heading towards one major train wreck during the debates.  It might not be pretty to look at… but it is creating some long lost interest in politics again.  So for better or worse… this election cycle might be one of the best in terms of getting an apathetic public interested in politics again and hopefully out to the polls.

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