Fifty Years Later and We Are Going Backward

a possible solutionIt’s the Fourth of July and we’re celebrating freedom today and I have to comment on something I just learned. In Texas “in 2011, a law which bans voter registration drives — a method that is often used to target potential voters in poor neighborhoods and on college campuses — went into effect.” Banning voter registration drives! I have a problem with this Texas law from two points of view.

First, I believe that voting is a responsibility for every American citizen. The Founding Fathers believed that citizens have rights, but that those rights are not more important than responsibility.  In 1820 Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Teachers, state and federal education standards and our culture encourage students and others to vote.  However, Americans’ voting record is appalling in a society that believes in democracy.


During years of presidential elections 67% or less of the people get to the polls.  During years when a president is not running 49% is the highest turnout.  In these elections it’s ONLY Senators and Representatives who are elected.  (The people of the United States apparently haven’t taken Congress seriously for some time.)

Are these percentages similar to those of other industrial democracies for Congress/Parliamentary elections?


Oops, we are at the bottom in comparison with some other countries.

Well, we are better than undeveloped countries, aren’t we?  I only got as far as the c’s in collecting the information below.  These are average turnouts.

                     Albania                       72.2

                    Andorra                       80

                    Belize                           77.9

                    Burundi                       84.3

                   Cambodia                    85.4

                   Cameroon                   88.9

Oh, and Cuba’s turnout rate is 98.6.

We should be spending more time and energy on getting Americans to vote than we do on stopping them from voting.

My second reason for being against a law that bans voter registration drives is that I have a personal interest in demanding that all citizens have the right to vote.  I have written a book, You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You, in which I describe my experiences registering African-American voters in the Deep South in 1965.  I was a white California coed when I encountered and triumphed over staggering poverty, rampant illiteracy, and the Ku Klux Klan. My aim is to give today’s students inspiration and hope that they, too, can play an important part in the political process. And what does this Texas act do?  It takes away voter registration drives for students.

No voter registration drives?  No right to vote?  There is an expression that “If you have your freedom, then thank a veteran.”  How sad it is to think that our veterans fight and die for our freedoms, which include voting, only to have that right taken away from citizens because of politics.  Let me close with a story from my book:

“Victoria Moultrie lived around Hugar, South Carolina.  A person had to sign his/her name to register to vote, but most of the older ones had never learned.  Victoria was an exception.  She told us she had learned it as a little girl in school.  She said she was ninety-seven.

“That makes her a little girl in the early 1870s.  [Victoria] must have started her education in a Freedman’s Bureau school.  Deke and I were finishing a job that a teacher started ninety years before…I have thought about those who helped her, the teacher who taught her and all of those who wanted real freedom for her.  They must have been bitterly disappointed at the time.  I have thought about all those who have opposed what she did.  They must have been very confident.  One side had force and power, the weight of opinion and the power of money.  But they didn’t win.  Victoria Moultrie won when she registered to vote in the fall of 1965.”


Blais, André (2006). “What affects voter turnout?” Annual Review of Political Science 9(1): 111-

Blais, André and Agnieszka Dobrzynska (1998). “Turnout in electoral democracies.” Journal of
European Research, 33(2): 239-261.

Blais, André, Massicotte, Louis, and Agnieszka Dobrzynska (2004). « Why is Turnout Higher in
Some Countries than in Others?” Ottawa: Elections Canada.

Brockington, David (2004). “The paradox of proportional representation: The effect of party
systems and coalitions on individuals’ electoral participation.” Political Studies, 52(2): 469-490.

Burns, Nancy, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba (2001). The Private Roots of Public
Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dettrey Bryan J. and Leslie A. Schmidt-Bayer (2009). “ Voter turnout in presidential elections.”
Comparative Political Studies 42(10): 1317-1338.

Downs, Anthony (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: HarperCollins.

Endersby James W. and Jonathon T. Krieckhaus (2008). “Turnout around the globe: The
influence of electoral institutions on national voter participation, 1972–2000.” Electoral Studies,
27(4): 601-610.

Fauvelle-Aymar, Christine and Francois Abel (2006). “The impact of closeness on turnout: An
empirical relation based on a study of a two round ballot”, Public Choice 127(3-4): 461-483.

Franklin, Mark (1999). “Electoral engineering and cross-national turnout differences: What role
for compulsory voting?” British Journal of Political Science 29(1): 205-217.

Franklin, Mark N. (2004). Voter turnout and the dynamics of electoral competition in established
democracies since 1945. Oxford, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fornos, Carolina A, Timothy J. Power and James C. Garand (2004). “Explaining voter turnout
in Latin America, 1980 to 2000.” Comparative Political Studies 37(8): 909-940.

Gray, Mark and Miki Caul (2000). “Declining voter turnout in advanced industrial democracies,
1950–1997: The effects of declining group mobilization.” Comparative Political Studies,
33(9): 1091-1122.

Geys, Benny (2006). “Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate-level research.” Electoral
Studies 25(4): 637-663.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1984). “Will More Countries Become Democratic?” Political Science


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.