When you ask citizens why they didn’t vote, many say that the process was inconvenient and time-consuming. (See the table below, which uses 2002 Census survey data.) Their answers suggest that we could increase participation by making it easier to vote, e.g., by turning election day into a national holiday, by allowing early voting or voting-by-mail, or permitting citizens to vote online. But evidence from states that have adopted some of these reforms shows a modest impact. The Motor-Voter law, which was supposed to increase turnout by simplifying registration, did raise the registration rate but not actual turnout in elections.
I have come to think that answers to surveys like the following are misleading. After all, costs and benefits are two sides of the same coin. Someone who says that he lacked the time to vote is also saying that voting was not especially important to him. He actually had time; but other things seemed relatively more pressing. I think the turnout issue comes down to motivation. When issues seem important, when outcomes are uncertain, and when campaigns reach out to mobilize and inform voters, turnout goes up–as it did sharply in ’04.
|too busy, schedule conflicts||27.1%|
|out of town, away from home||10.4|
|all time and convenience problems||40.6|
|not interested or felt vote would make no difference||12.0|
|did not like candidates or campaign issues||7.3|
|all dissatisfaction issues||19.3|
|illness or disability||13.1|
|all special barriers||13.8|
|forgot to vote||5.7|
|other reasons (not specified), don’t know, or refused||16.5|