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Why SSIR Analysis of Low Voter Turnout Just Doesn’t Cut It

Written by Noelia Mann

With election season in full swing, things are getting pretty hairy: metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) punches have been thrown, a projected $10 billion will be spent and the circus has comfortably settled down in town.

But are the players going “full out” for a meager house? Despite massive spending (and much showmanship) voter turnout at the polls in November is expected to remain modest, says the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) in a recent series of articles focusing on increasing voter turnout. According to this series, most “get out the vote” mobilization efforts are far less effective than previously thought, and the systems in place to analyze and improve those antiquated methods aren’t doing enough. Furthermore, the articles reveal that bills to make the physical act of voting easier and less expensive, such as the Vote-by-Mail and Motor-Voter Act, have had little impact on the poll turnout . According to some writers at SSIR, that’s because “political information and interest, not the high tangible costs of the act of voting, are the real barriers to a truly democratic voting public.”

No doubt political information and interest can make a difference, as evidenced by recent turnout for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. However, there are also structural barriers that are equally-if not more-important. Those underrepresented at the polls are those that have the hardest time getting there; those affected by poverty who cannot afford to take the day off work, women who cannot afford or find childcare for their children, the elderly and disabled, those without legal status, former felons unfairly barred from the polls and those living in rural areas without access to affordable/reliable public transportation. Those who disproportionately fall into these categories are people of color. It is absolutely a race, class and gender issue, and that’s no accident. Recent changes to voter ID laws, the disenfranchisement of those who’ve been convicted of felonies in the past, and racial gerrymandering has paved the way for a poll-turnout that will be overwhelmingly white and well-off. In fact, according to a recently released report by the Brennan Center, “16 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election” in 2016. This number will bring the grand total of states that have new restrictions in effect since the 2010 mid-term election to 21. Yet, SSIR contributors maintain that “voting is widely accessible” and their suggested solutions, such as embracing a multi-party system, accept detrimental impact on minority voting rights as necessary collateral damage.

While SSIR suggests that the best way to increase voter turnout is by re-invigorating a sense of civic duty and patriotism, I wonder what we do for those people affected by the drastic increase in voting restrictions. Even those who are defiant and show up have to contend with a system that is (still) so evidently rigged against them. If we hope to seem a meaningful voter turnout in November, in which the diversity of our country is accurately represented, it’s essential that we start more urgently addressing the ever-increasing voter restrictions and the systemic oppression that breeds them.

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