Steadily lower voter turnout is the sad fact in all democracies

“The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 years!”

That was the headline in New York Times’ main editorial today, as the paper lamented the fact that only 36.3 percent of the American voters bothered to vote in the midterm election on November 4.

In no state did the voter turnout exceed 60 percent, with Maine coming closest at 59.3 percent, followed by Wisconsin 56.9, Alaska 55.3, Colorado, 53, Oregon 52, Minnesota 51.3, and Iowa 50.6 percent.

Indiana had the lowest turnout with only 28 percent, with New York, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all also under 30 percent.

“Lower voter turnout since World War II is a trend in all democracies,” says Sören Holmberg, election expert and political science professor at the University in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It seems that democratic decision making no longer is as important for people as it used to be in our globalized world.”

Voter turnout in countries like Sweden, 83.3 percent in the parliamentary election in September this year, is still much higher than in the United States, but turnout in Sweden used to be even higher, over 90 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmberg points to a steadily lower voter turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, only an average of 42.5 percent earlier this year, to England where turnout for parliamentary elections has gone down from over 80 percent after World War II to slightly over 60 percent, to France also from around 80 percent after the war to below 60 percent today.

Even in Australia and Belgium, where voting is obligatory, has voter turnout decreased, although turnout is still around 90 percent.

The United States has special problems, like gerrymandering. Uncompetitive districts lowers voter turnout, and incumbents are re-elected at an average rate of over 90 percent, says Holmberg.

Lower voter turnout favors the Republicans. So instead of making voting as easy as possible for everyone, as I think should be the goal of every democracy, the Republicans have continued to try to make it more difficult. That is an especially sad fact in the American democracy.

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Victory for Obama…if all the polls are not wrong

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney continue to stump frenetically to utilize every last hour of the remaining presidential election campaign, their most important message is about the importance of voting. And tomorrow, we will see how good the two campaign organizations really are in getting people to actually go to vote.

There is optimism in both camps, especially from the Obama campaign while the Romney’s campaign is “cautiously hopeful,” as Carl Cannon writes in RealClearPolitics today.

From the media, apart from Fox News, there is a steady message that Obama will win. Larry Sabato, the highly respected professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, joined this chorus today on his Crystal Ball blog. He predicted 290 electoral votes for Obama against 248 for Romney in that Obama would win in six of the nine swing states: Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin. So even if Romney would win in the other three, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, it will not enough to capture the necessary 270 electoral votes and win the election. Sabato also predicted continued Democratic majority in the Senate and continued Republican rule in the House of Representatives.

So if you believe all the polls and most of the pundits, president Obama will be reelected — if they are not all wrong, which is unlikely, but, perhaps, still possible.

Howard Kurtz, media critic at the Daily Beast:

“If Obama somehow manages to lose, it will be a stunning defeat for the nation’s first African-American president. But it will be overpriced a crushing blow for the punditocracy that headed into Election Day filled with confidence that Obama had it in the bag. And Fox News will not let the mainstream media hear the end of it.”

And Mike Allen at Politico in his daily email:

“And yet, enough is uncertain about the samples and the mood of the nation, that lots of people we respectfully would not be SHOCKED if Mitt Romney pulled it out. They’re not expecting it, or betting their own money on it – but it’s not impossible. Put another way: Most Democrats will be surprised if they lose; many top Republicans will be surprised if they win. And that’s what makes this such a delicious 36 hours for political junkies: The great political minds THINK they know where things are headed. But most of them realize they could be wrong.”

But let me remind you that not only the polls are on Obama’s side. History is also on his side, for it has proven extremely difficult to defeat a sitting president. That has only happened four times since 1912, when Woodrow Wilson defeated William Howard Taft, 1932 when Franklin Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover, 1980, when Ronald Reagan won over Jimmy Carter and 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated George HW Bush. Should Romney win tomorrow it will be something of a historical sensation.

The last week of campaigning has gone well for Barack Obama. He was strengthened politically in the wake of the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, not least because Romney was forced to the sidelines, with no role, unable to conduct his election campaign. But Obama was also strengthened by the words of praise from Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as from the country perhaps leading independent voice, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The campaign somehow took a new direction and Obama got new wind in his sails. It may prove to be decisive tomorrow.

U.S. should aim at raising not lowering voter turnout

For an observer from Europe, where voter turnout is over 80, even 90 percent, while turnout in American mid-term elections around a measly 50 percent and around lowly 60 percent in presidential election years, it would seem that all efforts should be concentrated on raising voter participation by simplifying and coordinating voting laws.

Instead, “voter suppression” has become a major issue in the current election campaign with the Republican Party seemingly intent to further complicate voting procedures and stifle voter participation. Foremost here is the introduction in over 30 states, all but one of them with Republican majorities in the state legislatures, of requiring government issued photo-IDs in order to vote.

These new laws, which got their start in Indiana in 2006, primarily affect the elderly, minorities — American Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income groups, who traditionally support the Democrats. They are among the 11 percent, or 21 million U.S. voters, who do not have government issued photo ID cards, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. To obtain ID cards cannot only be difficult but also cost money, a kind of tax, critics say, like the “poll tax” used against Blacks in the Old South to prevent them from voting, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has described it.

The Republicans have called for the photo-ID laws to prevent voter fraud. But there is no widespread fraud in American elections. According to News21, quoted in an excellent overview of this whole issue on the website ProPublica, there have been only ten cases of voter impersonation since 2000 – that is one in 15 million voters. However, according to the same study, there have been almost 500 cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of alleged registration fraud. But the new voter-ID laws would do nothing to avoid such fraud, as veteran reporter Lou Cannon points out on RealClearPolitics.

The blog FiveThirtyEight in the New York Times has claimed that the new ID laws may cause the turnout to decrease by between 0.8 and 2.4 percent in November. Since these voters, who now might stay home, are mostly democratic voters, it is difficult not to conclude that these efforts by a Republican party steadily marching ever further to the right are politically motivated.

A lower voter turnout could be crucial for the outcome on November 6. So much is at stake, also for the American democracy.