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16 October 2014
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Reference - The peopleOverview
There are regular opportunities to participate in democratic elections. Elections happen every day throughout each of the states and counties. The annual total of elections in the USA is 450,000. While many elections, such as those for state governors and major city mayors, attract a great deal of attention from the voters, most, such as those for school boards and city councils, have a very low profile. This is especially the case if local elections take place in isolation. Participation in county (and state) elections is far less than in those for Congress and can be as low as 10%.

the election process
The entire US election process starts and finishes with the county. County governments are empowered by state law to administer all local, state and national elections. County governments register new voters, institute primary elections, publicise election-day procedures, post election information to voters, establish polling sites, select voting mechanisms and report afterwards on the success of their process.

There are serious flaws in the American electoral process.

The states insist on retaining control of elections, so there is no uniform national standard for voting. Different states and counties operate a variety of voting devices - from modern electronic machines to the card punch system which was used in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Florida's counting system was confused and produced a vague, possibly inaccurate vote. This led to huge controversy.

Another issue for the electoral process is that some state Governors have the right to appoint the official who is in charge of state election procedures. This has given rise to widespread complaints that the person appointed may not be politically neutral. Recently, for example, the Republican Governor of Florida , Jeb Bush, appointed Sue Cobb as the state Election Chief. Some have been critical of this choice as both Cobb and her husband were significant cash donors to the Republican Party during 1999 and 2000.

eligibility to vote
You must be a US citizen and over 18 years of age to be eligible to vote. If you are a convicted criminal or have been declared mentally incompetent by a court of law, you are not eligible. Being eligible to vote is not enough, however. In all states except North Dakota , voters must actually register to vote.

registration
Every state has different registration procedures. Registration tends to be highest amongst older, white, well educated voters. A lower percentage of ethnic minority groups and younger voters tend to register, even though they are eligible. A number of factors have been blamed for this.

One is voter apathy. Some groups may feel that it is a waste of time bothering to vote because they feel that, whoever wins, their own needs will not be addressed.

The complexity of the voting process may well be another factor. It has been argued that many from the ethnic minority groups have fewer opportunities at school and leave school with a lower standard of education as a result. Poorly educated people may find it difficult to complete voter registration forms.

In recent years, there have been attempts to increase the number of registered voters, particularly amongst under represented groups. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, for example, educates Hispanics about the democratic process and encourages them to register to vote. The Rock the Vote campaign has the same aims but targets young voters.

Voter registration drives are special campaigns organised before an election to encourage registration. In 2004, several voter registration drives, which were supposed to be non-partisan, caused controversy. The people behind some of the campaigns were accused of taking substantial donations from some political parties and of being reluctant to accept registrations from others.

turnout
Turnout tends to be higher in presidential elections than in congressional mid-term elections. The 2004 Presidential election had the highest voter turnout since 1968. Some commentators have said that the high turn out was due to the strong feelings (both for and against) the war in Iraq and about President George Bush. Turnout tends to be higher in ‘battleground' states, which are the states where opinion is divided and either party has a chance of winning.

The way turnout is reported can be confusing.

In 2004, about 88.5% of the registered population turned out to vote. This sounds like a high turnout, but it means nothing if the number of registered voters is low.

In the same year only 63.8% of the eligible population voted. This means that a number of people eligible to vote did not bother to register, and therefore could not vote.

In groups where registration is low, reporting the turnout of registered voters does not tell us much about how that particular group is participating in the democratic process. This is why interest groups place such a big emphasis on getting voters registered.

registration and turnout figures
The figures below show registration and voter turnout in Presidential and Congressional elections. Note that the data is from the US Census Bureau. The Bureau does not identify ‘Hispanic' as a separate race, but as persons of any race who are of Hispanic origin.

Presidential Elections
 

2004

2000

 

Registered to Vote (%)
Voted (%)
Registered to Vote (%)
Voted (%)
All population

72.1

63.8

69.5

59.5

Non Hispanic White

75.1

67.2

71.6

61.8

Non Hispanic Black

68.7

60

67.6

56.9

Asian and Pacific Islander

51.8

44.1

52.4

43.3

Hispanic

57.9

47.2

57.3

45.1

Women

73.6

65.4

70.9

60.7

Young Voters (18-24)

57.6

46.7

50.7

36.1

Non Hispanic White

60.6

49.8

52.9

38.1

Non Hispanic Black

56.7

47.1

51.5

36.2

Asian and Pacific Islanders

42.6

34.2

38.1

27.2

Hispanic

44.6

33

38.5

25.6

Women

60.6

49.8

53.4

38.2

Source US Census Bureau



Congressional Mid-term Elections
 

2002

1998

 

Registered to Vote (%)

Voted (%)

Registered to Vote (%)

Voted (%)

All population

66.5

46.1

67.1

45.3

Non Hispanic White

69.4

49.1

69.3

47.4

Non Hispanic Black

62.7

42.7

63.7

41.8

Asian and Pacific Islander

49.2

31.2

49.1

32.3

Hispanic

52.5

30.4

55.2

32.8

Women

68

46.6

68.4

45.7

Young Voters (18-24)

43

19.3

43.6

18.5

Non Hispanic White

45.4

20.4

45.9

19.5

Non Hispanic Black

42.2

20.7

40.6

16.9

Asian and Pacific Islander

34.5

15.9

36.4

14.7

Hispanic

34.3

13.3

30.6

16.7

Women

45.8

20.5

46.1

19.3

Source US Census Bureau

making sense of statistics

Making sense of statistics

In the diagram above you can see the percentage of this citizen population who have registered to vote. But the percentage who actually voted shown is the percentage of those eligible, not those registered.

Statistics can be presented in a number of ways, and this may affect what they mean, so it's important to watch out for this when you are making comparisons.

At the time of the 2004 election, the population of the USA was reported at just under 216 million, but only 197 million of these were eligible to vote. Those eligible are sometimes referred to as the citizen population .

For example, in 2004, the percentage of Hispanics eligible to vote who registered was 57.3%. However, the percentage of the total Hispanic population who registered to vote was 34.3%. This is because many Hispanic people do not have citizenship and are not eligible to vote.

To help you understand this further, follow the example below, which looks at the voter record of the Hispanic population in November 2004.

Hispanic population

27,129,000

Hispanic population eligible to vote (citizen population)

16,088,000

Number of Hispanics registered to vote

9,308,000

Number of Hispanics not registered

17,821,000

Number of Hispanics who voted

7,587,000

Number of Hispanics who did not vote

19,542,000

Percentage of total population who registered to vote

34.3

Percentage of citizen population who registered to vote

57.9

Percentage of total population who voted

28

Percentage of citizen population who registered to vote

47.2

Percentage of registered Hispanic voters who voted

81.5%

Source US Census Bureau


The above table shows that more than half of those Hispanic voters who were eligible to vote in 2004 did register and more than 80% of them did vote. But this represents only 28% of the total Hispanic population.

The figure of 81.5% of registered Hispanic who voted shows that when Hispanics register they do tend to vote. Clearly, both Democrats and Republicans will increasingly target the Hispanic vote in the Hispanic states.

However, when roughly two thirds of resident Hispanics are not registered to vote (who are not or cannot because they aren't citizens), this is clearly an area of concern for a country founded upon democratic participation.


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