There’s a saying that goes something like this: “If you didn’t vote, then you don’t get to complain.” Setting aside the undemocratic implications, there is a kernel of truth in that statement, if you don’t like the way things are, then why didn’t you vote?
Around presidential elections, we tend to zoom way out and focus on the nation as a whole, and it makes sense. What about at a more local level, though? In the days following a presidential election there is talk of voter turnout, and in the immediate aftermath there’s talk about approval and disapproval ratings. How do those numbers stack up for Michiganders and their view of Governor Rick Snyder?
The numbers (after the year) from left to right express the number of actual voters, the number of registered voters, the size of the voting-age population, and finally the percent of people that turned out to vote in those elections. The lowest voter turnout for Michigan was the 1990 election at 15.1 percent, and the next lowest was in 2014 at 17.4 percent for the reelection for Governor Rick Snyder.
To put that in perspective, only 17.4 percent of Michigan’s voting population turned out to vote, and of those Snyder won by 50.9 percent of the vote.
This means that in 2014, roughly 8.86 percent of the state decided who would lead the state. That would be like one person in a group of ten deciding who is going to lead the group.
According to a poll conducted by The Detroit News, 54 percent of those polled disapproved of Snyder’s leadership as governor (as of 2016). In all fairness, this is in the wake of the Flint water crisis, in a time when people across the state would generally not view Snyder through a positive lens.
This signifies a larger problem with the Michigan, and by default American, voting system.
According to a 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, 51 million eligible voters weren’t registered to vote. To put that in perspective, that’s about 16 percent of the country’s current population not participating in the democratic process. The issues that lead to low voter turnout are multifaceted
Basically, the problems are that Americans aren’t automatically registered when they turn 18 years old, it takes time to register and vote, and voting is neither a federal holiday or mandatory. In short, voting is hard in the United States and the case isn’t different for Michigan. This could be remedied at the state level through legislation.
For example, Michigan is not one of not one of the 34 states that allows no excuse early voting. This basically means that a voter can cast a ballot earlier than election day without needing a valid excuse. It’s a simple measure that helps people avoid trying to work in voting on a Tuesday.
Two states that are strong examples of voter empowerment are Oregon and North Dakota. Oregon only allows mail-in votes, and automatically registers people to vote. In the case of North Dakota, citizens are allowed to vote early and do not have to register before they vote. If they can prove that they are a citizen of that state on election day, then they are eligible to vote.
One of the arguments against more relaxed voting laws is that it could allow for a surge in voter fraud, however, there have only been only 35 credible fraudulent votes in the United States between 2000 and 2014. To help put that in perspective, even if all those fraudulent votes happened in Michigan in 2014, that would come to about .003 percent of the participating voters. If that was a group of ten people, that would be about .03 percent of a person.
In other words, a negligible fear and not a reason to make voting more difficult than it already is.
It’s impossible to say if Michigan will change its voting laws to be more like North Dakota or Oregon, however, with a new governor in 2018 and ostensibly a new government, Michiganders might see voting reform take place and in turn form a better relationship with their government.