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Voter Turnout May Rise In 2020, But There Are Still Plenty Who Are Opting Out

[Keith Freund / WKSU]
An Ohio I heart voting sticker on a jacket

Ohio and most of the rest of the country have hit record numbers of early voters, something often celebrated as a victory for democracy. But some people will still be opting out of this and other elections.

Turnout among Ohio voters in 2016 dropped 4 percent from the 2012 presidential election, and early on there were fears that trend would accelerate this year in large part because of COVID-19.

So far the opposite has been true. But there are still people like Jeanette Collins, who are active and engaged and opting out.

“It’s two wings, but it’s the same bird,” she said.

Collins is a retail employee who hasn’t voted since the 2000 election. She says that’s when she first felt distrust in the system. President George W. Bush defeated Al Gore after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Bush in a battle over ballot recounts. Gore won the popular vote, but Bush got the Electoral College.

“The popular vote is basically for polls to kind of gauge how popular a candidate is. Whereas the electoral vote is what actually is counted,” Collins said.

The message of who really matters stuck with her.

“Well, then what’s the point of voting if it’s just basically a bunch of old guys in the Capitol Building deciding who’s going to be voted?” Collins said.

Lacking Faith in the System

Collins isn’t alone. According to the Knight Foundation’s "100 Million Project," many non-voters lack faith in the election system itself and believe that the popular vote doesn’t elect the president. Knight’s Evette Alexander says they feel disenfranchised.

“They believe that fundamentally something about the system of voting is broken or rigged or somehow other forces are going to choose the president, for example, versus actual voters,” Alexander said.

Even without the Electoral College, some people decide not to vote. Alexander says there’s some mistrust about how their votes will be counted. And some don’t have the time or energy in their overwhelmingly busy lives.

“Just feeling that crunch of life for some folks that don’t have a lot of leisure time between home and work demands,” Alexander said.

Bad History

Then there’s the history some have with voting. Collins recalls her ex-husband being turned away after waiting for two hours in a cold, rainy line at the polls.

“It further infuriated me. Here’s all these people who sincerely want to throw in their two cents in who they want to lead this country, and they’re being turned away,” she said.

Some non-voters have more than a mistrust in the voting process. People like Boot. Boot, who asked to be referred to by first name only, believes electoral politics are fundamentally oppressive.

Boot has been an anarchist since college a few years ago.

“Basically anarchism exists as a rejection of the state and the things that make up the state, and voting is an aspect of what we might call choosing your oppressor,” Boot said.

Boot says they find other ways to contribute.

“I, and a lot of other people I know, are doing a lot of things to help keep people safe, and provide services for people, and doing direct action in ways other than voting. So I really don’t want people to think that I’m copping out,” Boot said.

They respect, though, that others make other choices.

Alexander says the chaos of social media has led some not to vote.

“It becomes a very confusing environment. In fact, when we survey nonvoters, more of them were getting information about politics from social media than other sources, but they trust the information on social media less,” she said.

Changing Minds

Alexander says changing nonvoters minds could begin with better civics education in schools, greater transparency in the process, and a better way to help people connect the dots between decisions made in Washington and their personal lives.

But the study also shows the dynamics may be changing.

“Less than a quarter of these nonvoters said that nothing at all could be done to motivate them to vote. Most of them said they could be motivated, and they gave reasons like having a candidate that they believed in and things like that,” Alexander said.

How many of them believe in any candidate, or the system itself, will play out Tuesday on Election Day.

Copyright 2020 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.