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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Raising Voter Turnout


The problem is clear. Lower levels of voting are tied to lower levels of representation. The fact that racial and ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups vote less regularly than others means that their favored candidates often fail and their preferred policies often are not enacted.

Unfortunately, identifying a problem is often easier than finding a solution to that problem. The problem of low voter turnout is no exception. Over the years, the number of scholars and observers who have lamented low and uneven voter turnout is large (Lijphart 1997, Piven and Cloward 1988, Rosenstone and Hansen 1993, Verba et al. 1995). The number and range of reforms that have been suggested to address the problem are just as substantial. What's more, many of these reforms have not only been suggested; many have also been adopted. Since turnout began falling in the United States in the 1960s, considerable effort has been undertaken to try to stem the tide of turnout decline. Numerous laws have been passed to reform institutions and alter electoral rules to make the vote more accessible. The Voting Rights Act, for example, was passed and extended. Motor voter, which couples voter registration and drivers license applications, is now in place across the country. In most states and localities, registration deadlines have been loosened (Highton 2004). Absentee voting and vote-by-mail options have expanded dramatically (Gronke et al. 2007). Voting, by all accounts, is now more open and easier than it was decades ago (Wattenberg 1998).

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