Why Doesn’t the U.S Government Uphold One of it’s Most Important Responsibilities?
In ancient Athenian democracy, there was an institution called the Ekklesia that acted as the institution for direct democratic involvement. In this instance, any adult male could vote for a measure to pass and there were no bars put into place to prevent a legal citizen from voting (except economic costs or military burdens that hampered attendance). While this is not truly practical in the United States due to geographical and population size, America still incorporates the idea of democracy in how politicians are chosen to represent the constituency. The idea of the civic duty to go and exercise political freedom is a strong sentiment in this nation and is commonly brought up in political speeches. The idea of standing up for ‘democratic principles’ and protecting freedom, etc. etc. are way too often espoused in speeches and political sermons, but what is ironic is the fact that there are conscious efforts to neglect on a key responsibility of this democracy or any other democratic government. That responsibility is creating the best opportunity for people to exercise their right to vote.
In the academic field of political science, there is an actual mathematics equation that predicts the likelihood of an individual voting. This equation is:
V=the probability the voter will come out and actually vote.
p=Probability of the vote mattering.
B=the utility benefit of voting- differential of one candidate winning over the other.
C=Costs of voting (Time/effort spent/opportunity costs).
D=citizen duty or the good feeling that one gets from voting
This mathematical equation can to a large extent determine whether someone will vote or not. Now I am not going to go into ‘p’ since the math is extremely complicated, but the U.S. government has failed to a large extent in addressing ‘C’. As someone’s income goes up, the opportunity costs of voting decrease. Inversely as income goes down, the opportunity costs increase significantly. This is the case especially in cases where the voter is from a near poverty or poverty income bracket.
Let’s take an average middle class voter with an income of $90,400/year* salary, the ability to take a half day or whole day off from the week is much easier compared to an impoverished voter. The middle income voter having a better financial cushion generally to absorb the opportunity costs of voting. Compare this to the income level of an impoverished voter with an income of around $12,490*. This individual does not possess the same financial cushion to be able to absorb the opportunity costs, and therefore are less likely to vote.
There are policies that could be implemented to help ease the opportunity costs of voting for everyone that have been brought up in government before but have failed to garner enough ground to become implemented. Firstly, a federal national Voting Day needs to be enacted. This gives a legitimate opportunity for a impoverished voter to not have to worry about work and can give them the opportunity to vote without risk of being terminated for calling out of work to vote. This also doesn’t impede on the few and limited days off that many lower income workers have which again further lowers the opportunity cost for those voters. The last attempt to create such a holiday was roundly shut down my Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and faces stiff republican opposition in congress.
Secondly, passing a federal law that enforce a minimum 2 week (including weekends) early voting period in the United States before any election at any level. While this again lowers the opportunity costs of voting by giving more options for an individual to choose when to vote, this also helps in another way. On Election Day, lines are extremely long usually due to a variety of factors including no opportunity to vote other days (especially for lower income voters, and that is even if the state has early voting at all), the hype of election usually brings out last minute voters and encourages that feeling that is referred in ‘D’, number of polling stations available, population concentration in a precinct, number of poll workers, etc. Enacting and enforcing a national early voting period would greatly ease the general crunch on voters and polling stations. The likelihood this kind of policy is scant though due to constitutional authority questions and the idea of the federal government enforcing electoral rules on state and local elections. In all likelihood the passing of such a policy would lead to years of legal cases.
One policy that has been utilized in other countries that I personally am not in favor is to do the opposite of of lowering the opportunity costs of voting, but rather to increase the opportunity costs of not voting which is compulsory voting. Many nations in the world have compulsory voting enacted, though the level of enforcement and consequences of not voting vary from nation to nation. This probably would never gain any traction at all in America though due to constitutional rights. The act of voting itself could be argued as an exercise of free speech, therefore the act of choosing not to vote can also arguably be considered an act of free speech or protest (again I find this argument preposterous, but the argument does have potential legal grounding).
In too many states there have been efforts made to manipulate ‘C’ or the opportunity costs of voting in state and local elections. Both parties have been guilty of decreasing days allowed for voting, number of polling stations, etc. This is just one factor of course, the other factors such as the relationship between gerrymandering and ‘p’ are ridiculous and shall be covered in another article that I will write highlighting a ridiculous case of gerrymandering in Virginia. If anything the federal and state governments should be creating the greatest opportunity to vote for voters with simple policy changes like enacting a national Voter Day. I hope that in the coming years that this will change and hopefully that the United States will ease the opportunity costs of voting.
If you have comments or other interesting voter opportunity policies that would increase the probability of voting, feel free to comment. I am currently working on a campaign and will be writing more articles related to this topic as election day (November 5) rolls closer.