Steinman ’19: Making America vote again

Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The United States is often said to have pioneered the modern republic, in which citizens hold the coveted right to voice their political opinions through voting. And yet today, Americans exercise that right with far less frequency than citizens of other countries. Only 54 percent of the voting-eligible population (a figure that excludes non-citizens and felons who have lost the right to vote) voted in the 2012 presidential election, placing us 31st out of 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The problem, interestingly, is not primarily one of turnout but one of voter registration: Of registered voters, 84.3 percent turned out to vote in 2012, the seventh-highest figure in the OECD. Voter registration in this country is an arduous process that seems almost intentionally difficult to navigate. This especially affects college students attempting to vote in their home states, which requires the extra, bureaucratically intensive step of obtaining and submitting an absentee ballot. This logistical difficulty goes a long way in explaining why 18- to 24-year olds were about 20 percentage points less likely to vote than the overall population in the 2012 election. In the 2014 midterm elections, only 17 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cast a ballot. Midterms always have a lower turnout than regular election cycles, but with over 30 million 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States that year, that 17 percent figure represents 25 million wasted opportunities for Americans in our age demographic to have their voices heard.

There is no shortage of problems with our electoral process. From super PACs to felon disenfranchisement, American elections are dictated by systems that too often favor the privileged and powerful at the expense of the rest of society. For example, the simple fact that Election Day occurs on a Tuesday is an insurmountable hurdle for anyone who cannot afford to take time off of work to stand in line at the polls. Restrictive voter ID laws are being ramped up across the country. The barriers that college students face while attempting to vote seem trivial when compared to the behemoth of campaign finance reform or the persistent discrimination that occurs at and around polling sites.

Still, our age group’s increased involvement in the electoral process has the potential to transform politics in a way that transcends any particular candidate or election cycle. Our votes matter: Alex Smith, the national chairman of the Republican College National Committee, once noted, “If you started the voting age at age 30, (former) Governor Mitt Romney would be president today.” Regardless of your political affiliation, 25 million wasted votes is not something to be trifled with, particularly when the largest popular vote margin separating the winner and loser of a presidential election in U.S. history was just under 18 million votes in 1972. Imagine what could happen if more than 17 percent of us voted.

The OECD data suggest that the biggest barrier to voting for eligible citizens is the registration process. When people are registered to vote, they are much more likely to make it to the polls on Election Day. While it’s true that there is some degree of self-selection here — those who take the time to register to vote are more likely to take the time to vote — if every 18-year-old were automatically registered, a major roadblock to democratic participation would be removed. Automatic voter registration would make voting more accessible for students navigating the confusing electoral process for the first time, not to mention for the millions of other eligible but unregistered voters who lack the time, motivation or knowledge to figure out the arduous registration process.

President Obama spoke in favor of automatic voter registration in February, calling it “something we should be proud to do.” Legislation to that end has already been passed in California, Oregon and West Virginia, but there is still a long way to go. In a democratic republic like ours, active voter participation keeps politicians accountable to their constituents and is one of the most powerful ways to effect change. The more people vote, the more powerful voting becomes.

I’m shocked by the number of Brown students I’ve talked to who can rattle off polling statistics or debate eloquently on the merits of their preferred candidates but didn’t cast a primary ballot because they forgot about the deadline or couldn’t figure out how to register. Political opinions and knowledge are great, but they are put to waste unless you actually exercise your right to vote. There’s still time to register for the primaries in California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and West Virginia. But even if your state’s deadline for the primary has passed, you can still register in time for the general election in November. That’s the first step to changing 17 percent to 100 percent.

Claire Steinman ‘19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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  1. Obama can’t get a healthcare website up and functioning for less than a billion dollars. God help us if he and his staff of neophytes are in charge of installing an automatic and functioning voting infrastructure.
    Low voter turnout is a function of civil illiteracy, and motivation. Automated voter registration just encourages corruption, and increases the impact of apathetic citizens imagining they are participating in a meaningful way, but not.

  2. daryl p'17 says:

    the politicians should vote for us that would make the registration easier

  3. Gary Smith says:

    If you think Trump is a racist who sees any color other than green, you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Take a look at his life and career; he has always hired and worked with people of all walks of life.

    If you think Megyn Kelly isn’t an exploiter (establishment) tool who tried to take down Trump, and you think Trump is a misogynist because of the bloodlust comments he made regarding her (while making bloodlust comments about Chris Wallace at the same time) then you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Just like any true capitalist, Trump states “I’m just oblivious to a person’s gender” when dealing with people.

    If you think Trump is an isolationist because he wants fair trade, you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. “Free-trade” comes at a huge cost to workers in developed countries! The end result is that America will produce nothing and will provide no services outside our borders because services and products will always be cheaper from poorer countries. Anyone who says anything else concerning free-trade is either lying through their teeth, or is completely clueless!

    90% of the cocaine here comes through our southern border; 80% of the meth and heroin here comes through our southern border! If you think Trump, who continually says “I love Mexican people,” is a xenophobe because he wants to secure our southern border, you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Trump’s negative comments were targeted at a subset of illegal immigrants; NOT Mexicans! Illegal immigration is destroying our society (illegal immigrant children are almost always below grade level so teachers have to spend most of their time teaching at that level which hurts our children; illegal immigration keeps wages low; and the drugs from south of our border are ruining our children’s lives).

    If you think Trump wants to punish women for having abortions, you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Trump said he made a gaffe during convoluted conversations about hypothetical situations. He has clarified that in the real world he would like to see abortion regulations left up to each state.

    If you think Trump is ignorant because he thinks it might be more pragmatic for Japan to have a nuke rather than having 54,000 U.S. troops stationed there at our expense, you are a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. The simple fact is that nothing ensures sovereignty like having a nuke. No country with a nuke has been or ever will be invaded. We would have never invaded Iraq if they had a nuke; in fact, the best evidence that we knew they didn’t really have any WMDs was the fact we invaded them. The 54,000 troops we have in Japan are absolutely no deterrent for North Korea, China, or anyone else; what deters them is the fact we have nukes. Furthermore, what would happen to Japan if they can’t defend themselves and we go bankrupt over the next decade or so?

  4. Gary Smith says:

    The following message is brought to you by Puppets for the Establishment Parasites (PEP), who want to encourage you to let them finish off America so they can move on to their next host…

    “You let us get this far…throw the red pill in the trash; stop trying to struggle against the hypnosis now and let us just take the last few drops of blood…it will all be over soon”

    “And please remember that free trade helps America; illegal immigration helps America; policing the world is America’s responsibility; super PACs are free speech to help poor unwitting candidates; there are no paid protesters; the news media we fund is unbiased; lobbyists are good; politicians and bureaucrats cannot be bought; those idiotic concerns about the debt and bubbles are unfounded; our education system is the best; your privacy is always protected; the war in Iraq was necessary; Russia is evil; your government listens to you…anyone who disagrees with this reality is a xenophobic, isolationist, ignorant, racist, nutjob!”

  5. Gary Smith says:

    Trump has benefited from a corrupt system and understands what must be done to fix it. It would be far easier for him to just continue buying politicians if he wanted to keep taking advantage rather than running for POTUS. As such, I have to believe he actually wants to help America more than he wants to continue taking advantage. He made his riches and now I think he wants to focus on his legacy, and wants to be remembered for righting America’s ship (who cares if that’s ego driven; I would happily help build him a statue if he succeeds). Consequently, those who want to continue exploiting are scared and doing everything they can to stop him; they are even hiring thugs through craigslist to disrupt his rallies.

  6. Gary Smith says:

    Super-PACs MUST be banned! They give a few wealthy exploiters the ability to shape our entire political system; they allow for absurdly unequal representation! The people and corporations funding these PACs have acquired their wealth from selling out America through political favors, endless wars, unfair trade deals, exploiting foreign labor, exploiting illegal labor within our borders, creating insurmountable debt for our children, and maintaining a rigged election process that ensures nothing will change. Super-PACs are a direct conflict of interest and an absolute corrupting force!

    In my opinion, any candidate who doesn’t demand their super-PACs disband in the name of democracy and the people is a flat out TRAITOR to America! Exploiter puppets Clinton and Cruz will never do this like Trump and Sanders have; instead, they will continue feigning powerlessness and ignorance regarding super-PACs. Anyone who votes for these conniving two-faced lawyers is voting to continue selling out America!

    If someone with Trump’s resources can’t run without being shredded by exploiter-funded super-PACs and media pundits, how does someone like me or you have a chance? The answer is that, unless we are lackeys like Clinton and Cruz, whom those same exploiters also fund, we don’t! The process is rigged; you can watch a great example of how the media takes things out of context and falsely demonizes non-controlled candidates like Trump by searching for and viewing “The Untruth about Donald Trump” video.

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