by Megan Swift
According to the Pew Research Center, only 55.7% of Americans voted in the last presidential election. That means that almost half of the eligible voting population didn’t show up to the polls or mail in their ballots in 2016.
What’s their reason for not voting? As it turns out, there are many.
The Knight Foundation commissioned a study called “The 100 Million Project: The Untold Story of American Non-Voters” after the 2016 election.
The results showed that “…persistent non-voters are by no means a monolithic group, but as varied as American society itself.”
Two of the main themes of the study were lack of election knowledge and doubt of the impact of one vote.
“There are a lot of access barriers that stop people from voting,” Peter de Guzman, the research program coordinator at CIRCLE, said. “People want to vote but they run into barriers that dissuade them from voting.”
CIRCLE is a nonpartisan research center at Tufts University that focuses on increasing civic engagement.
Some of these access barriers include lack of education, being too busy, not having transportation to the polls, doubt of self-efficacy or they simply didn’t like the candidates, according to Guzman and Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE.
“These barriers are worse for people of lower socioeconomic status,” Lundberg said. “It’s harder to pick up the habit of voting later in life if you didn’t grow up with it.”
Bonnie Maslaney, 67, lives in Plum, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and hasn’t voted in an election except the one when she first turned 18. She can’t remember if she’s registered as a Democrat or a Republican.
“I never got into voting and I don’t like to talk about politics or religion,” Maslaney said. “If you don’t vote you can’t complain [about the leadership in office].”
She feels that as a nonvoter, it’s not her place to provide opinions on politics; she doesn’t want to anyways. Maslaney has never regretted not voting and nothing could cause her to reconsider voting in November.
“My mom would always vote, so I don’t take after her in that aspect,” Maslaney said. “I do have friends who don’t vote though.”
“I know votes are very important and that one vote can make a big difference,” Maslaney said, “but we’re all different and everybody has their legal rights.”
Vicky Lawson, 70, is a resident of Felton, Delaware, a small rural town about 30 minutes away from the Rehoboth Beach, and she hadn’t voted for a long time. She is similar to Maslaney in that she just doesn’t feel like voting.
Lawson registered first as a Democrat, then switched to independent and has been a Republican ever since Barack Obama was elected in 2008.
She did, however, vote for Donald Trump last year because she was “sick of everyone else” and Trump was a “wild card.”
“I did get teary eyed when Obama got elected at first because I thought it was such a historical moment,” Lawson said, “but he uprooted the civil unrest again and I had already been through that once.”
The first time she experienced civil unrest was during the “race riots” in the 60s. Poverty and institutional racism triggered violence in many neighborhoods. Lawson remembers seeing storefront windows broken, having a 4 o’clock curfew and seeing people get shot, all over the news.
“[The civil unrest from Obama’s presidency] was one of the main reasons I voted for Trump,” Lawson said. “He has gotten a lot done but he doesn’t act very presidential.”
She might reconsider her decision to not vote depending on how things go from now until November.
“My father probably would’ve said something [about my decision to abstain from voting] because he was a WWII hero in the army,” Lawson said. “but my little vote won’t count for much anyways.”
Betty Allison, 67, is a Republican who resides in Glen Burnie, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. She feels like her vote doesn’t count for anything.
“Why am I taking my time to vote if I have no control?” Allison said. “In the last election, the people voted for Hillary Clinton but then the electoral votes allowed Trump into office.”
Even though she did vote for Trump in 2016, Allison doesn’t believe he has the ability to lead people.
“There are a lot of things I think Trump did very well, but he needs to be quiet on Twitter and think before he speaks,” Allison said. “I can’t say I want him to be president, but I don’t want Joe Biden either.”
Allison used to vote in the elections for about 10 years when she was a Democrat. She lost interest for 20 years and ended up switching to the Republican Party after working for many years. Working and earning her own money drew Allison to being a supporter of capitalism.
“I can’t think of anyone who I would really want [to vote for],” Allison said. “[The political system] doesn’t seem to be working these days.”
“Ensuring that [citizens] are engaged civically is a long process that needs to be done early and often,” Lundberg concluded. “With national elections, it’s hard to see the impact of one vote.”
Peter de Guzman argues that the main way voter attendance can be increased is by civic education starting at a young age.
“Some people don’t feel prepared and they don’t even know the date to register to vote,” Guzman said. “There needs to be more civic instruction.”