America’s “omnibus ballot” is an outlier among democracies and may be driving down voter participation
Contrary to what nearly every observer, and participant, of American elections says, America doesn’t really have low voter turnout. It does have relatively low voter registration and low institutional trust at the moment. We may be able to fix that by asking Americans to vote less, not more. Americans are asked to vote far more than other developed democracies — sometimes more than twice a year and often multiple years in a row — and this may be exhausting the American voter. Maybe Americans don’t register to vote because we’re expected to do too much.
The common story goes something like this: for over a century American voter turnout has been consistently low, inching over 60% of eligible voters not even a handful of times. For the past sixty years, the average turnout for presidential elections is around 55%, to the point that it is a virtual certainty that whomever wins the presidency, up to 75% of eligible voters did not vote for that person. This has inspired countless observers and politicians to suggest that America needs to do more to encourage voter participation. These numbers though obscure the fact that the US does not have low voter turnout, quite the reverse.
The number of registered voters who do vote is in reality among the highest in the world. A consistent 80–90% of registered voters can be relied on to cast a ballot. This is more than than just about every nation in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and most of the developed world.
The overwhelming majority of Americans who register to vote, do.
But not always.
Sometimes people go to the ballot box and still don’t vote. Specifically, they don’t vote for many local offices. It is common knowledge among pollsters, political scientists, and campaign managers that local voter turnout is lower than national turnout.
And Americans have a lot of voting to do on the local level. Possibly more than any other developed nation.
It turns out that Americans may not only cast ballots more regularly than voters in most other countries, we might also do so with far greater…