Let 'Em In and Get 'Em In: How to Give More People the Right -and the Reason- to Vote

By Frank Askin

Any way you look at it, participation in the cornerstone activity of democracy-casting votes for candidates-is going down.

This is usually expressed in terms of turnout, which refers to what percentage of those people registered to vote actually did so in a given year. But turnout figures mask a deeper chasm between those who vote and those who do not. Not counted at all in turnout figures are people who are old enough to vote but have not registered to do so, as well as those who are old enough to vote but are ineligible. An analogy can be made to unemployment statistics: they only count people who are actively looking for work, ignoring those who have simply given up.

In New Jersey over the past decade, participation by the overall voting age population is down. The same is true for the eligible population (those old enough to vote and not barred by virtue of being felons, ex-felons or non-citizens). And the percentage of eligible voters actually registered to vote is down. Indeed, adding together those who could vote, but do not, and those who cannot in many years produces a majority of the voting age population.

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