Apathetic Voters Are Essentially Disenfranchised

Election Day was Nov. 3, but perhaps not everyone knew about it because, according to the unofficial results reported by the Texas Secretary of State, only about 11 percent of those registered turned out to vote. What’s worse, this isn’t particularly unusual; Texas has a history of low voter turnout especially in years when there is no corresponding national election. How is it that only six percent of registered voters constituted the majority needed to determine permanent changes to the state constitution?

There are plenty of reasons not to vote, and some, such as ignorance of what’s on the ballot, are better than others—although ignorance can be a voluntary state, especially when voters are mailed the full text of the proposed amendments months in advance. A common excuse which fails to support the choice, though, is to claim a lack of opportunity; the availability of both early voting and mail-in ballots as early as Oct. 19 and Sept. 1 respectively should have provided ample opportunity for Texas voters. It seems like apathy is a more likely explanation.

One way to increase voter turnout is compulsory voting, a method most notably employed by Australia whose voter turnout has averaged above 90 percent since its implementation of the law in 1924. The policy is based on the treatment of voting as a civic duty and is enforced through minor fines or community service sentences for those who chose not to vote. Opposition to the law’s implementation in the U.S. criticize its use of coercive force and warn that some might vote carelessly to avoid the penalty. Of course, in that case, a ‘no preference’ option might be added or alternatively, citizens could vote to determine whether or not to continue the practice—that vote, at least, would reflect the public’s opinion.

Another way of addressing the problem of voter apathy would be to apply the principles of direct democracy rather than representative democracy. Theoretically, technological advances are sufficient to allow any qualified adult to vote on every policy issue, and seeing as electronic voting technology is already in use, the risk of fraud would probably be about the same. One possibility of ensuring security would be to use unique identifiers, voter ID cards with encrypted security chips for instance, to prevent abuse.

A less dramatic implementation of the principles of direct democracy is California’s referendum system. It allows citizens to propose and decide on laws and policies, and even repeal them if they are able to organize sufficient support. This system empowers rather than coerces voters, creating a sense of responsibility in place of the prevailing attitude of apathy; voters are able to hold themselves accountable rather than blame politicians.