As the saying goes, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Today it seems American voters jump at every chance to exercise their right to free speech while forgoing their place in the decision making process. To be fair, voting is not a process especially friendly to those with jobs, children, lack of experience, multi-state residency, demanding college courses or hobbies beyond faithfully tracking politicians and political trends. Most registered voters will find the time to vote for their next president, but as two voters experienced in earnest, we see the problem particularly acute in congressional primaries. Primary elections provide voters the opportunity to identify potential leaders who are best positioned to represent the state or district.
On September 9th, Massachusetts voters will elect candidates to fill seven Congressional seats (one Senate, six House). Despite playing the vital role of limiting the field of candidates, primaries consistently see lower voter turnout rates than general elections, as the national average hovers around 20 percent. This trend appears likely to worsen as America faces a national epidemic of low youth voting that will profoundly hinder the maintenance of a truly representative government. Research tracking decades of voter turnout clearly shows a growing apathy and distrust among younger generations. Nationwide, one-fourth of eligible voters are not registered. In Massachusetts, only 47 percent of eligible voters age 18-29 are registered, and a record-low 25 percent of them voted in the 2010 midterm elections. Their generational neighbors, voters 30 years and older, fared much better with 74 percent registered and 59 percent voting in 2010 primaries. With 115 colleges and universities, Massachusetts is home to some of the nation’s brightest youth and is losing a generation’s valuable input in primary elections. This unique demographic makes Massachusetts the ideal leader in election reform.
Addressing low voter turnout and electoral reform, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform recently published a report highlighting the greatest systemic roadblocks to efficient governing. To combat growing voter frustration and political apathy, Massachusetts and the nation should consider BPC’s common sense recommendations such as a single national primary day and proactive voter registration
With the goal of increasing voter turnout to 30 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2026, Massachusetts should increase registration by identifying eligible unregistered voters and contacting them with opportunities to register, allowing for online voter registration and cross-analyzing other states’ voter lists to identify false or outdated registrations.
Second and most promising, the United States should create a national primary election day in June of even-numbered years. Much like the general election’s ‘Super Tuesday,’ a national primary day would increase national media and public awareness, potentially leading to greater participation. The current system’s multiple election dates and processes confuse even politically savvy voters. Uniform deadlines and voting dates would simplify the voting process and increase access for all voters. Although Massachusetts could not establish this day alone, we should begin promoting a national conversation addressing low voter turnout in congressional primaries.
We must stop hindering our own progress with complex voting procedures and candidates who often represent their parties’ most ideological wings. The growing contempt toward politics and the consequential youth apathy should be warning enough of the detriment of alienating voters. It’s time for students to vote, for politicians to listen and for things to change.
Mackenzie Marcotte, a junior at Boston University, spent the summer in D.C. interning with the Department of Justice and working to build BU’s chapter of Common Sense Action, a bipartisan millennial advocacy group based on 39 campuses in 20 states across the country.