Annika Evenson, a freshman studying exercise science at the University of Evansville, was the recent winner of the high school category of the annual League of Women Voters Brown County 2022 essay contest. In her essay, Evenson provides potential solutions to raise the number of registered voters in Indiana and touches on voter diversity and it’s impacts on the government. Following the contest, Evenson was featured on an episode of “Civics Conversations,” – a podcast on WFHB Community Radio made by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County – where she shared more details about the importance of voting.
Evenson told The Crescent that, in writing this essay, she has learned multitudes about voter participation and how impactful it truly is on our government. She explained how voter turnout (of those registered) in America is currently at 65%. In the words of Evenson, “that’s a D. You’re not passing.” Varying state laws can limit information and resource access to certain people, further impacting voter turnout.
Evenson’s essay is printed below and her feature in “Civics Conversations” can be accessed at wfhb.org.
Solutions for the Lack of Voter Participation in Indiana
The 2020 general election was an anomaly in recent voter turnout trends. Across the country, voters mobilized and there was a 2% overall increase in the number of registered voters, and the number of people who actually voted increased by 5% compared to 2016 (Fabina). In the 2020 general election, there was a 65% voter turnout in Indiana (“General Election Turnout and Registration”). There were 4,751,370 registered voters in Indiana and only 3,068,625 voted. This is on par with the rest of the nation’s voter turnout. 65% is equivalent to a D-a failing grade. Something needs to be done to raise the grade and get people out to vote in the next election. It is critical that people do their civic duty in order to keep our democracy thriving because without voting the whole principle of the United States government falls apart.
Apathy, cynicism, and lack of efficacy are the biggest issues impacting voter turnout. Some people are frustrated with what is happening in the government and they feel like their vote cannot make a difference so they do not vote. People assume incumbents will win the election again and they believe that their one vote cannot make a difference. Widespread apathy is dangerous because many people not voting because they think they can’t make a difference adds up to a lot of people. Cynicism is when people lose trust in the government and it has greatly increased within the last 50 years (increasing drastically after the Pentagon Papers). This loss of trust can be attributed to people feeling out of touch with their representatives and government. In 2003, 75% of people felt out of touch with their government officials (“Part 6: Cynicism, Trust and Participation”). The disconnect between the government and the people can cause people to not vote because they don’t think that it really affects them since they are not connected to the government. Both apathy and cynicism tie into the lack of political efficacy. Political efficacy is when people believe that they can change the government as well as understand and influence political affairs. Majority of people lack political efficacy. The lack of political efficacy is plaguing our democracy because when people feel powerless they do not vote which leads to Thomas Jefferson’s idea of “majority who participate”. America’s current representative government is not representative of the broader United States population because of the lack of political participation. Political participation needs to be promoted to “allow [people] to practice political skills and participate in political settings” in order to attain “greater political efficacy and political equality“ (Padilla et al. 1). There are several ways to increase political participation in Indiana like strengthening civics education in schools, implementing automatic voter registration, and using no excuse mail-in ballots.
Civics education in the United States is inadequate. Only 37 states require students to demonstrate sufficient civic knowledge (“Resource Title: 50-State Comparison: Civic Education Policies”). Indiana is one of the states that does require a civics class (in the form of a high school United States Government class) and assesses students on their knowledge of how they can participate in civics (“Civic Education Policies: State Profile – Indiana”). While Indiana has a comparatively strong civics education, it is still lacking in terms of teaching students the importance of voting and participating in the United States’ democracy. In Kansas, one study was done that showed that “voter participation was 2.1 percent higher for both 18-year-olds and their parents” when a strong civics education was implemented into the curriculum (Graves). A rudimentary government education only goes so far. Civics education in Indiana could be improved by creating education standards that require students to be taught how to be successful voters. In order to be a successful voter, people need to be able to know how to research and identify candidates that they would like to vote for as well as the ins and outs of how to vote. Learning about the United States government is one step in civics education but to increase people’s civic literacy we need to teach young people how to vote and participate in democracy.
There are currently 22 states that have same-day voter registration; Indiana is not one of them (“What States Allow Same Day Voter Registration?”). Some of those states also have automatic voter registration which automatically registers people to vote when they become eligible. According to the Center for American Progress implementing automatic voter registration would “result in more than 22 million newly registered voters in just the first year of implementation”. By increasing the number of eligible voters, it makes elections more representative of the broader population. Automatic voter registration also benefits those who are disenfranchised by removing the structural barriers that might prevent them from registering to vote like transportation or internet access. When people are automatically registered and do not have to go through the hoops of registration, they are more likely to turn out on election day.
Mail-in ballots are the best way to increase voter turnout. Indiana currently has a mail-in ballot system but in order to use it people need to present a valid excuse. No excuse ballots do not require people to have a reason for requesting a mail-in ballot. No excuse mail-in ballots remove the barriers of transportation, waiting outside in inclement weather, and finding time during the workday. There are 34 states that have no excuse mail-in ballot voting systems in place, and 5 states use mail-in ballots for everyone in all elections (West). Indiana could greatly benefit from the use of no excuse mail-in ballots due to the majority of rural communities that leave potential voters stranded without a way to get to their polling place or without the option to take off of work to vote. Two of the biggest barriers that prevent people from voting are transportation to their polling location and Election Day being on a Tuesday- no excuse mail-in ballots solve both of these issues.
Within the past year, there have been many bills that have limited people’s voting rights and this is a major threat to American democracy because it reduces the number of people who can vote. In January 2022, the Senate voted on a bill called The Freedom to Vote Act which would expand voting rights for all people- it was not passed. The Freedom to Vote Act would have addressed “ voter registration and voting access, election integrity and security, redistricting, and campaign finance” (Klobuchar). Two of the things that this bill proposed were implementing an automatic voter registration program and making vote-by-mail an option for all voters. It also would have made Election Day a federal holiday, allowed incarcerated people to vote, and would crack down on fraudulent voter registration. While all of these items might not be feasible at one time, they are most definitely doable and would benefit voters immensely. Indiana needs to help lead the charge in establishing updated voting practices that will help increase voter participation and give America its democracy back. Indiana could set up better civic education standards, begin to use automatic voter registration, or provide a no excuse mail-in ballot option; any of these options would greatly increase Indiana’s voter participation. America’s democracy is currently being led by a majority of those who participate- and this can be changed to represent the true scope and diversity of the American people.
Cited References & Bibliography
“Civic Education Policies: State Profile – Indiana.” Civic Education Policies: State Profile – Indiana, Education Commission of the States, 12 2016, https://ecs.secure.force.com/mbdata/mbstcprofancg?rep=CIP16ST&st=Indiana. Accessed 21 January 2022.
DeSilver, Drew. “In past elections, U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout.” Pew Research Center, 3 November 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/11/03/in-past-elections-u-s-trailed-most-developed-countries-in-voter-turnout/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
Fabina, Jacob. “Despite Pandemic Challenges, 2020 Election Had Largest Increase in Voting Between Presidential Elections on Record.” United States Census Bureau, 29 April 2021, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/04/record-high-turnout-in-2020-general-election.html. Accessed 21 01 2022.
“General Election Turnout and Registration.” IN.gov, 2 December 2020, https://www.in.gov/sos/elections/voter-information/files/Election_Turnout_and_Registration_20201202_052923PM.pdf. Accessed 21 January 2022.
Graves, Guthrie. “Increasing Voter Participation in America.” Center for American Progress, 11 July 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/increasing-voter-participation-america/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
“IDR: Hoosiers Vote: Ways to Vote.” IN.gov, https://www.in.gov/idr/hoosiers-vote/ways-to-vote/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
Klobuchar, Amy. “Freedom to Vote Act.” Congress.gov, 14 09 2021, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2747?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22freedom+to+vote+act%22%2C%22freedom%22%2C%22to%22%2C%22vote%22%2C%22act%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=2. Accessed 21 January 2022.
Padilla, Yesenia, et al. “Promoting Civic Knowledge and Political Efficacy Among Low-Income Youth Through Applied Political Participation.” Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, vol. 12, no. 2, 2020, p. 12, https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1422&context=jces. Accessed 21 01 2021.
“Part 6: Cynicism, Trust and Participation.” Pew Research Center, 5 November 2003, https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2003/11/05/part-6-cynicism-trust-and-participation/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
“Resource Title: 50-State Comparison: Civic Education Policies.” Education Commission of the States, 12 December 2016, https://www.ecs.org/citizenship-education-policies/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
Torres, Ciara. “The Freedom to Vote Act.” Brennan Center for Justice, 20 September 2021, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/freedom-vote-act. Accessed 21 January 2022.
“Vote by Mail.” FairVote.org, http://archive.fairvote.org/turnout/mail.htm. Accessed 21 January 2022.
West, Darrell M. “How does vote-by-mail work and does it increase election fraud?” Brookings Institution, 22 June 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/how-does-vote-by-mail-work-and-does-it-increase-election-fraud/. Accessed 21 January 2022.
“What States Allow Same Day Voter Registration?” Rock the Vote, https://www.rockthevote.org/how-to-vote/same-day-voter-registration/. Accessed 21 January 2022.