Who Voted and Why It Matters

November 17, 2016

Voting ballot box

How’s Everyone Feeling?

Wow. The 2016 election season was FULL of surprises, wasn’t it?

If you’re anything like us, your head has been spinning since sometime late last Tuesday night. But now we’ve had time to take a few big, deep breaths and return to the work we were interested in before last Tuesday: who’s voting?

We’ve been working all year to encourage participation in our democracy by restoring the Voting Rights Act and reminding Americans all across the country about the importance of getting to the polls.

And that happened, to a certain degree. So now, in a continuation of our work this year, we want to share a few facts we’ve learned on who voted in this past election, and why it matters.


Can’t Buy Me Love

By most accounts, the two major-party candidates for president were among the most disliked in the history of polling. And it seems like all the money that poured in from everywhere really only served to increase their unpopularity.

But people still came out. Despite everything, the people of this beautiful nation came out.

They came out early: early voting numbers surged to 47 million, up about 1 million from 2012. On Election Day they waited in long lines in some jurisdictions and overcame confusion and delays all around the country to do their patriotic duty.


And Voter Turnout Actually Declined

Unfortunately, the percentage of eligible voters who showed up at the polls—58%—actually declined from the previous two elections. The drop wasn’t dramatic—that percentage is in keeping with turnout across recent US presidential elections.

We’ve talked a lot over the past year about voter turnout and the things we might be able to do as a country to increase it, but right now, based on the most up-to-date numbers, we know that in 2016 only 58% of eligible voters actually voted.

So if just under half of eligible voters stayed home, that means our country’s next president was elected with the votes of only about one-quarter of the American electorate. We don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem to us like a sustainable way to elect our leaders and ensure enough support to make progress. And we feel this way regardless of who wins.


But What About the Youngest Voters?

Let’s look to the youngest set of voters, those who really will determine the future of this country. There are now more millennials than there are baby boomers, but this growing demographic power has not yet been translated into political power. It appears that millennials did not, in 2016, increase their turnout substantially, if at all. Millennials historically have the lowest turnout rates of all age groups.

It’s easy to be frustrated by this information, but we see potential. The things that matter to 18 to 29-year-olds, like social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, economic justice, climate change, and environmental stewardship, are often underrepresented in Washington, DC, and statehouses around the US. That’s why voting matters so much: When you vote, you get a seat at the table, and you begin to see policies that you support put into action.


Carolina In Our Mind

We shouldn’t judge anyone, or any group, too harshly for not voting. In fact, as we’ve seen, some states try to make it hard to vote. Which got us thinking about North Carolina. Given all the time we’ve spent there this year, it was particularly disappointing to hear some NC politicians bragging that turnout among African Americans was down in their state. Can you imagine being happy that fewer people are coming out to vote? What kind of democracy hopes its citizens stay home on Election Day?

The presidential race was very close in North Carolina, and the still-undecided race for governor even closer. It is shocking to think that voter suppression tactics could have tipped the scales in either or both contests.

But North Carolina is not alone. Findings suggest that discriminatory voter ID laws could have led to a drop in voter turnout, and an increase in voter uncertainty and confusion, in Wisconsin and other states as well. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee’s Election Commission, was quite clear in his condemnation of such laws: "We saw some of the greatest declines were in the districts we projected would have the most trouble with voter ID requirements.”


Show Up to Have Your Voice Heard

So where do we go from here? Well, we can’t stop thinking about one number in particular: 42%.

42% of eligible voters didn’t participate in our democracy this election.

We need to keep fighting voter suppression, and we need to restore the Voting Rights Act. And the simple truth is that if even a small fraction of that 42% could be convinced to stand up and fill out a ballot, then we could see some huge and positive changes.

We love this country.

And we know that if we stand together, we have a chance to make things better for our families, our neighbors, and everyone else. So, let’s go, America. Make sure your voice is heard. The midterm elections are only two years away! Get registered. Get ready. And make a difference.