Contact: Kate Shepherd
In a few short months, 51 million people, for the first time in their lives, will have the opportunity to walk into polling places and cast votes that will determine their future leaders. I am not talking about 18-year-olds or the beneficiaries of successful voter registration drives. I am talking about the 23 million Iraqis and 28 million Afghans who, recently liberated, prepare to exercise their democratic rights for the first time.
Last March, 80% of voters in Taiwan, the Republic of China, voted in their country's presidential election. In national elections from 1992 to 2000, voter turnout in the United States was only 45%. In that same period, voter turnout eclipsed 80 % in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Iceland and Turkey.
It is difficult to say exactly why Americans are so apathetic about voting. Some suggest that the processes of registering and voting are too difficult or confusing. I disagree.
I often tell people that there is a voting booth on every street corner in America. That is not exactly true, but it nearly is. In fact, Indiana has more than 5,500 polling places, and most people live within a few blocks, or certainly a few miles, of their place to vote.
In recent years, the acceptance of procedures such as early voting and voting by mail have made it even more accessible to Americans. But an increase in the promotion and use of these techniques has not been followed by an increase in voter turnout. Just the opposite is true.
That raises the question, "Why don't more people vote?" The more important question, and the one on which I've focused the efforts of my administration is, "What can we do about it?" From voter registration drives at the Indiana State Fair and Indiana Black Expo to extensive voter education programs, my office continues to seek the elimination of barriers that keep Hoosiers from voting.
That's why since taking office in 2003 I have aggressively pursued policies that encourage voting and confidence in our elections. I have made it a point to work in a bipartisan manner to increase penalties for vote fraud, provide resources to local election officials and create Indiana's first statewide voter registration system.
I have also made training and education of voters and election workers a priority. These efforts have been significant. My office is preparing to send out a series of videos to educate voters, students, poll workers, and voter registration agents. My staff is also busy conducting training sessions for poll workers in counties around the state. But, ultimately, each one of us is responsible for casting our vote. As this Election Day nears, I encourage you to two things.
First, make sure you get to the polls on November 2 or send in your absentee ballot.
Second, but equally important, make sure the young people in your life who are registered to vote and are 18 or older also make it to the polls on Election Day.
Studies continually show us that young people ages 18 to 24 are the least likely to vote. Sometimes they just need a little help from someone who can show them the way.
It is disappointing that more Americans do not take the time to vote. I am working hard to change that in Indiana. I recently had the opportunity to visit with a group of newly naturalized Russian immigrants, some of whom are going to be able to vote for the very first time this November. They could barely contain their excitement at the prospect of casting their first votes as American Citizens - for many of them, their first votes that have ever mattered.
Too many of us take voting for granted. But this election offers all of us the opportunity to reverse the pattern of American apathy toward voting.
This year, I encourage you to reach out to people who have never voted and give them a real life lesson in American democracy.