President Barack Obama was joined in Selma, Alabama recently by many officials, dignitaries, and even some of the original marchers including George Congressman John Lewis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That watershed federal legislation, which some of the brave marchers in Selma in 1965 died to bring to the forefront, was designed to remove structural and practical barriers to voting, especially for African-Americans and others of color. But that historic legislation has come under attack by a right-of-center U.S. Supreme Court that thinks the voting hurdles put in place by slave states in the Deep South following the Civil War nearly 150 years ago are no longer needed.
Voting In America On Long Road To Recovery
The findings in a biennial voter turnout report released last week by Nonprofit VOTE should come as no surprise to election watchers who know America still has a long way to go until it can truly declare itself the greatest democracy in the world. In it’s report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, which is based on final data certified by state election offices, the report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this historically low-turnout election.
“Clearly there’s much work to do to foster a healthy democracy when well below half the electorate votes in a national election,” states Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “The good news is that higher turnout states show us how we can increase voter turnout across the nation.”
Miller’s concern is justified, given that just 36.6 percent of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II. Turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent, and Colorado at 54.5 percent. Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30 percent of their eligible voters participating.
Voter Rolls Down In Ohio
The report said Ohio tied for the nation’s seventh-largest voting drop (22 percent) from 2010 to 2014. Only 36.2 percent of eligible voters in Ohio cast a ballot in last year’s General Election, ranking it 34th in turnout compared with 19th in the 2012 presidential election. Ohio’s low turnout might also be attributed to the fact that it does not have Election Day registration. Seven of the top 10 states in turnout last year allow eligible voters to register or fix a registration issue at the polls or at their local elections office on Election Day or during early voting. None of the bottom 20 does. Ohio is among almost two-thirds of the states that allow “no excuse” early voting.
The number of registered voters in Ohio has also dropped considerably, as statistics from the Ohio Secretary of State show. As recently as 2008, Ohio had 8,287,665 registered voters, 69.97 percent of whom cast a ballot in that presidential election year in one of 11,107 precincts. Four years later, when President Obama won a second term by winning Ohio a second time by a plurality of voters, the number of registered voters had dropped 3.62 percent to 7,987,203 voters, 70.53 percent of whom cast a ballot. Ohio now has now dropped to 7.7 million registered voters.
California, Oregon Moving Forward On Voting
It’s not likely that Ohio lawmakers will do anything to reverse both the decline in registered voters and the percentage that do vote, but the poor voter turnout in this month’s Los Angeles city election, is stirring a conversation about how to do it. The Los Angeles Times reports that California lawmakers are considering a massive expansion of vote-by-mail balloting and legalizing pop-up polling stations at shopping malls to help increase the convenience and appeal of voting. Some strategies being pondered are opening polling stations weeks early and allowing teenagers to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election, strategies already being used in Colorado and Oregon respectively.
Making voting news Tuesday was the State of Oregon, which took another big leap to broaden participation by automatically registering people to vote. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill that puts the burden of registration on the state instead of voters, 17 years after it became the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots. Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013 but hasn’t registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.
Nonprofit VOTE researchers found that early voting, both in-person and by mail, continues to increase across the country. Last year, 28 percent of the electorate cast a ballot before Election Day, an increase of 3 points in four years.
Some Ohio Voting History
According to an analysis of voting in Ohio races for governor, George V. Voinovich, a Republican, had the highest percent of the vote (71.77% in 1994) in the sixty-six gubernatorial contests. Current Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, received the second highest percent (63.64% in 2014). And for Republicans who are actively trying to trash Ted Strickland’s chances to be the Democratic nominee to challenge first-term U.S. Senator Rob Portman next year, his raw vote total of 2,435,384 in 2006, the most ever, should show them the former governor has plenty of heft.
So when the narrative that Gov. Kasich shellacked his Democratic opponent by a nearly 2-1 margin last year, remember that his win looks very much tainted based on only 36.2 percent of eligible voters voting. By this standard, Gov. Kasich really only received the endorsement of fewer than one in four registered voters, no a stellar statistics if he wants to point to his electoral prowess last year as his bonafides for winning a national election for president.