For being the shining beacon of democracy, our country has lousy voter participation.
Only roughly one-third of Americans who could vote in any given election bother to cast a ballot. In municipal or primary elections that number is actually smaller. For instance, in last April’s municipal election 18.7 percent of Franklin County voters cast ballots. That was an improvement over the year before when only about 15 percent of registered voters took the time to vote. That is pathetic.
Why don’t people exercise their most basic and fundamental right as American citizens? Why do millions of Americans never even bother to register to vote?
There are many explanations, according to political scientists, including distrust in government, partisanship, apathy and a lack of faith in the election process.
The experts say convenience also impacts voter turnout. In all but one state, voters must go through a separate registration process before voting, and the vast majority of states do not allow Election Day registration.
Secretary of State Jason Kander is taking steps to make voting in Missouri more convenient. In December he introduced a new online tool that will allow eligible Missourians to register online.
Once the application form is completed, the secretary of state’s office will review it, then mail the printed form to the appropriate county office. Local election officials will then review each form for completeness and validity before notifying the applicant of their registration status.
From the perspective of local election authorities, the process of registering voters is not changing. The basic requirements of registering to vote will still be processed and validated through the county clerk’s office. The online tool just makes it easier.
State law requires people who register in person with the local election authority “shall identify himself or herself by presenting a copy of a birth certificate, a Native American tribal document, other proof of U.S. citizenship, a valid Missouri drivers license or other form of personal identification at the time of registration.”
People who register by mail or online must show a proof of identification the first time they vote in person or cast an absentee ballot.
Online voter registration is a concept whose time has come. Remarkably, Missouri joins just 15 other states that allow online registration.
More importantly, it is easy, fast and convenient. We know, because we tried it.
Like any new process, there will be glitches and issues that may need to be worked out. But there is no doubt this a great way to spur voter participation, especially among young people. Kuddos to Kander for being forward thinking on this issue.
So if you have never registered to vote or if you have changed your address or your name and you are looking for a convenient way to get started, go to www.sos.mo.gov/votemissouri.
Regardless, of whether you choose to use the new online method or visit your local courthouse, March 12 is the last date to register for the April 8 municipal and school elections in Missouri.
The only way to change our dismal voter turnout rates is to encourage people to care about government, and be a participant in it by being an informed voter.