Election Day is nearly upon us. And instead of cold-calling you and everyone you know, we’d rather invite you to consider a few important (and non-partisan!) election-related questions.
Mainly, how did we get such a strange voting system? Why do more than 40% of eligible voters stay home? And why should we care?
For some answers we turned to Erin Geiger Smith, author of the new book Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth about Voting in America. Below are highlights from the conversation.
What’s up with the electoral college?
Erin Geiger Smith: Many think that it was created to pacify slave-holding states because of the way populations were counted. In slave-holding states their voting population and their free population were lower, so this was a way for them to still have some say. But that’s not completely agreed on [by historians].
The main reason was because there wasn’t good media. We weren’t getting 24/7 news, and they needed a time for people to gather together and bring from their states what people felt and sort of represent their states. So it was a way to have a representative gathering when there was no way to hold a popular vote.
That’s obviously something that does not matter today. We are certainly getting all the information that we could ever want about the candidates. More than we ever want. But the truth is no matter why it was created or if we should still have it or what good it does now, the fact is right now we have it. It is the law of the land until it changes.
Is people not voting really the biggest issue with our democracy today?
Geiger Smith: I would describe it as the biggest problem because I just don’t think we can argue that we have the best representation of what the country feels when you only have 61% of eligible people voting for president. And the young people turnout just continues to blow my mind — how many votes are left on the table from those in the 18-29 year old range.
In the last presidential election, only 46% of eligible voters ages 18-29 showed up. It’s so low. And every age group votes lower than the age group older than it, and that continues until the age group of 65 and above. So we really are letting the oldest Americans make decisions that will last a very long time and impact the youngest Americans.
Greta Johnsen: We’re letting the Boomers decide for us is what you’re saying.
Geiger Smith: Yeah. I mean, basically.
What is your message to people who are disappointed in the lack of representation in our government? How do you make the case for them to continue to participate in voting?
Geiger Smith: The first thing I say is: I get that. I understand how a person can feel that way. But nothing will ever change — those in the minority voting group will never be in the majority voting group — if they don’t all band together and show up.
I think it also helps to broaden the outlook a little bit and think not just about the president but about your governor and your mayor and your city council people. We’ve learned so much during the coronavirus that those people in the local government impact our lives so much.
Politics is your education and your health, and it’s climate change, and it’s gun safety in schools. And I haven’t ever met a person who didn’t care about those things.
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.