Voting:

Some Procedural Changes and Informational Activities Could Increase Turnout

PEMD-91-1: Published: Nov 2, 1990. Publicly Released: Nov 2, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) why voter turnout in the United States was low compared to other democracies; (2) why U.S. voter turnout has been declining since 1960; and (3) what election procedures and informational activities were associated with higher levels of voter participation.

GAO found that: (1) comparatively low American voter turnout was not the consequence of political alienation, but international differences in the characteristics of political parties and election procedures; (2) U.S. political parties were not closely linked with specific interest groups and social categories, as in other countries, and consequently election results did not make a difference in the lives of individual voters; (3) the absence of penalties for not voting and the fact that citizens must assume the responsibility of registering to vote were other explanations given for comparatively low U.S. voter turnout; (4) turnout differences between states resulted from demographic composition of the electorate and different electoral rules; (5) all-mail ballot elections led to a 20- to 40-percent point increase in turnout and cost 32 percent less than conventional elections; (6) voter information activities did not generally increase voter turnout and low-turnout states were more likely to run such campaigns than high-turnout states; (7) states that mailed information to households, provided toll-free phone numbers for voters, and held mock elections in high schools experienced a substantially lower decline in voter turnout between 1980 and 1988; (8) making registration convenient and holding information campaigns stressing how to register and vote were especially effective in increasing turnout; and (9) voter information campaigns stressing civic duty, transporting voters to the polls, operating child care centers, and telephoning voters were not effective.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The committee has not taken action yet.

    Matter: To increase electoral participation, Congress may want to consider the feasibility of placing polling booths and other election materials in high school civics or other appropriate classes to allow mock elections to be conducted.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The committee has not taken action yet.

    Matter: To increase electoral participation, Congress may want to consider the feasibility of encouraging the states to mail pamphlets explaining propositions and referendums to households of registered voters.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The committee has not taken action yet.

    Matter: In seeking to increase electoral participation, Congress may want to consider the feasibility of a demonstration project to determine the appropriateness of all-mail balloting for federal elections. The project would determine differences in turnout and cost, the likelihood of fraud or abuse, and the comparative degree of public satisfaction with respect to mail-ballot elections versus conventional polling-place elections.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The committee has not taken action.

    Matter: In seeking to increase electoral participation, Congress may want to explore the feasibility of using toll-free phone numbers by means of which the voter could: (1) request that an official absentee or mail ballot be sent to his or her legal residence; and (2) obtain registration information, including the intent to purge the voter from the registration rolls.

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed legislation mandating actions to make voter registration more convenient. The bill was signed in May 1993.

    Matter: In the interest of increasing electoral participation, Congress may want to consider making voter registration more convenient. One way to do this would be to adopt a system of more nearly automatic registration such as that advanced by H.R. 2190 or S. 874, the National Voter Registration Act of 1989.

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The committee has not taken action yet.

    Matter: To increase electoral participation, Congress may want to consider the feasibility of setting up a toll-free phone number or numbers in each state and the District of Columbia from which the voter could obtain registration information, including information concerning the intent to purge individual voters from the registration rolls.

 

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