Voter turnout in the 2014 election was historically low. According to data collected by the Institute for Democracy Electoral Assistance, only 33.4 percent of the voting age population voted in the midterm elections of 2014, which is the lowest turnout since 1942. While turnout in midterm elections is consistently lower, turnout in presidential elections is not much better. Voter turnout has never risen higher than 60 percent of the voting age population. This is a serious problem for a democracy; however, the reason for such low turnout is fairly easy to explain: voting just isn’t worth it for a huge portion of the electorate.
Thinking economically, the decision of whether to vote or not can be explained through the idea of maximizing utility. In making most decisions people weigh the costs and benefits of each possible choice and then choose the one that results in the highest benefit. Think of it like a math problem: Utility = Benefits – Costs.
The benefits of voting are difficult to determine. Voters usually don’t receive any measurable or tangible reward for voting aside from that awesome sticker. The only benefits for voting are that warm fuzzy feeling you get for doing your civic duty and the chance that your vote is the deciding vote.
Presidential elections are an excellent look at the importance of some votes over others. In a campaign, most candidates would never set foot in a state like New York, California or Texas. They’re all states that vote solidly Democrat or Republican and rarely decide elections. Other states like Ohio or Florida often are the deciding states in an election. Votes in those states are considered highly important.
What are the costs of voting then?
First, there is the time investment. Election Day is the first Tuesday of every November and polls are typically open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting takes place in the middle of the week while most people have to work or take care of their families.
Taking time off from either can be an incredible hassle and result in lost pay or even retribution for taking time off. There is also the possibility of high travel costs to get to your polling place, and the time and energy costs of researching candidates and issues.
Voting is costly for many people. Something has to be done in order to raise voter turnout. Thankfully, a number of solutions have been proposed and implemented to both raise the benefits of voting and lower its costs.
A majority of states have early voting policies in place, allowing people to vote on days other than Election Day. Three states, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, have all-mail voting systems allowing people to vote from their homes. According to The Bulletin, an Oregon newspaper, Oregon has the highest voter turnout nationwide.
Some proposed solutions are online voting and registration and tax credits for voters. A small tax credit for having voted would incentivize voting, and help to reduce the financial impact of missing work to vote. Online voting would allow people to vote at their convenience just by logging into a computer.
And then there’s always the option to give voters more stickers. Who doesn’t love stickers?