Why don’t Americans vote?

Tuesday’s stunning election victory for Barack Obama has aroused more interest both here and abroad than any recent American election result. In the midst of all the celebration about the enthusiasm and high voter turnout, however, it’s worth looking at the statistics on voter turnout for the last 50 years. Even in hotly contested presidential elections, the usual turnout hovers around 50 percent of the voting age population. Only twice in living memory has it risen above 60 percent–in 1960 and 2008. How is it that so many Americans don’t take the trouble to vote? Is it because we have elections on Tuesday, which is usually a working day? Is it because we chose November for elections, a time of year when many people are getting ready for a long winter or for the holiday season? Is it because for so many years we have made it difficult for many people to vote? This is something that thoughtful Americans should take some time to ponder. Our presidential elections are momentous for the entire world. We really are shaping the future, and we should work hard to remove the barriers for participation.

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