US Voter Registration Is Highest in History, but What About Turnout?

As the candidates make their last pitch to voters for what seems like the longest election ever, the focus is getting out the vote. For several months now, there has been strong voter registration drives by several organizations, including the campaigns. Their efforts have helped the United States reach the milestone of 200 million registered voters. For comparison, the last time there was a Clinton on the ballot, there weren’t 200 million people eligible to vote in the United States.

The question now is, how many will show up at the polls?

Voter turnout has been historically low in America when compared to other democracies. Not only is voter registration completely voluntary, so is voting. It’s also difficult to compare turnout over decades without considering the context of the time.

For example, an estimated 65 percent of eligible voters voted in 1908. Of course, white men were the only voters and, therefore, it was a smaller group. That number fell to less than 50 percent in 1920, which was the first year that women were included in the group of eligible voters. In 1968, three years after the passage of the Voter Rights Act of 1965 was passed, an estimated 60 percent of voters cast a ballot.

That was the last time voter turnout hit that high mark. Only the 2008 presidential election turnout got within striking distance. There were a little over 146 million registered voters then, and 57 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls.

The rhetoric of this election has lit a fire for many to register. TargetSmart, the data firm which announced the voter registration milestone, notes that there is no way to indicate if people will show up. Some of the voter suppression laws that have become law over the past eight years are being struck down or modified, but obstacles remain. State and local election officials have authorized fewer polling places and reduced the amount of time available for early voting. In places where the laws were more recently decided, voters report misinformation and confusion from poll workers about the rules.

These issues are more likely to happen in areas with large numbers of poor or minority voters. These populations, along with seniors and college-aged voters, tend to vote more often for Democrats. According to TargetSmart, the new surge in voter registrations seems to be leaning heavily toward the Democrats.

Donald Trump’s campaign has admitted that they have “three major voter suppression operations underway.” The plan is to target women, African-Americans, and idealistic white liberals who supported Bernie Sanders. This includes a “dark ad” campaign that aimed at black voters on Facebook.

The point of these tactics from the Trump campaign is to do what the entire 2016 election has already done for many: Create a palpable sense of disillusionment. Both candidates have high unfavorable ratings in their respective parties. Whether those perceptions are based on facts or fiction, the result is a lack of enthusiasm to show up at all.

Having 200 million registered voters in the United States is reason to celebrate, but there is a long way to go from registering to turning in a ballot.

There is some indication that millions of voters have already made it through the road blocks. Early voting in many places across the country are reporting higher turnout than during the same period in 2012, and the so-called “October surprises” that have popped up seem to be motivating supporters instead of dampening enthusiasm.

While the presidential election is a race to the most electoral votes, every vote cast will determine who will cross that finish line. As First Lady Michelle Obama told a crowd last week in North Carolina while campaigning for Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama won that state in 2008 by only 14,000 votes. That averaged out to about two votes per precinct.

In America, voting is the most powerful and direct way to make a change. Eighty-seven percent of Congress is up for reelection, the makeup of which will determine exactly how successful the president will be. The down-ballot offices and initiatives in every city and state will have a direct effect on residents.

Your vote is your voice. It can only be heard when is used.