I was not able to say this in class so I am posting this here weeks later.
In class when we discussed Judith Shklar’s book American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, it got me thinking: do we as Americans not vote because citizenship is like a club? We do not vote because once voting is attained it loses its value immediately? This is an interesting argument, but one that I do not fully subscribe to.
Over the summer I had the pleasure of canvassing for Democratic candidates in neighborhoods all over the Phoenix area, six days a week, 8-10 hours a day; however, only about three-fourths of my time was spent canvassing. I also spent time registering voters in these neighborhoods because there were plenty of people eligible to vote, but a significant amount of people who were not registered. (And before someone jumps on my case, I willingly registered as many people who wished to be affiliated with the Republican party as I did people who wanted to be affiliated with the Democratic party) During my time canvassing I met many people and heard many ideas from them about politics in general; the people I want to highlight are those who were not registered to vote. In order to explain why I do not necessarily subscribe to Sklar’s argument, I am going to list off the most reasons I encountered from people who were not registered to vote and why that was.
1) I did not know how.
As I am not a professional, I cannot explain why this was the most common answer I heard. If I were to take an educated guess though, I would attest this to a lack of civic education. This may be anecdotal, but I encounter many people who are frighteningly unaware of who their civic leaders are and how the government works. Does this translate into people not voting? I think it is possible.
2) I am too busy, I just never got around to it.
I understand being busy. People have their own lives, they have kids, they work, etc. That is the only explanation I have and I do not really have a solution. I am in favor of making election day a national holiday, but if people are not registering they are still not voting. I do not know how more convenient I could have been, I was at their doorstep with the voter registration form and some told me they were still too busy. Should it be easier to register to vote? Maybe.
3) I have a general dissatisfaction with politics/government/current events.
This one especially baffled me. I was so upset with this election cycle and I was so concerned about the direction the Republican Party wanted this country to head towards that it inspired me to work harder to ensure my party wins as many elections as possible. I do not understand being so dissatisfied that one just shuts down and does not do anything. I can explain until I am blue in the face about why voting matters, but it was always to no avail.
The purpose of this blog post was to list off the reasons I heard while canvassing that people gave me as the reason they were not registered to vote. This experience is the reason why I am not so sure I believe Sklar’s argument. It is an interesting argument, but I think the reason for America’s staggeringly low voter turnout is more complicated than Sklar would have us believe. I welcome your own thoughts on why America does not vote.