From Volume 76, Number 4 (May 2003)
Persistently low voter turnout in the United States continues to disappoint lovers of democracy. When scarcely half of the population of eligible voters turns out for a presidential election once every four years – to say nothing of midterm congressional elections or local elections – it becomes difficult to defend American democracy as truly representative. Instead, the will of the active voters, who constitute a stark minority of the eligible voting population, ultimately determines the electoral outcome. This regrettable situation is not the essence of a participatory democracy.
Although low turnout might easily be blamed on an American electoral lethargy, it could also be understood as a failure of the American electoral structure to motivate voter turnout. Accepting that premise as fact, it becomes possible to treat declining voter turnout as an opportunity to reconsider what has until now been a staple of American democracy: voluntary voting.