Low voter turnout and gerrymandering affecting midterm elections

As the United States prepares for the looming midterm election Nov. 6, it is important to look at who will be voting. Midterm elections are known for their usual low turn out, so those voters who do choose to exercise their democratic duty may very well have an outsized effect – all eyes are on a voting bloc with untapped potential.

Young people, especially the 18 to 24 year old bloc, are notorious for their poor turnout especially in midterm elections. That itself is no new phenomena, young people have never matched or surpassed their older peers in voter turnout. Yet for decades the problem has been worsening and it is unclear if the 2018 midterms will be any different.

The reason behind young people’s apathy is not definitively known. Different experts purport widely varying causes, but most experts agree that young people’s stake in society is at least a significant factor.  The young today get married older, have children older and are much more transitory in their twenties than past generations.

As per The Economist, settling down gives citizens more stake in their community because if they own property, if they have children they are more likely to care about issues such as how local schools are run thus they have more incentive to vote. Today’s young people are a different sort altogether.

The reason for voter apathy and low turnout cannot solely be laid at the feet of voters and society however.  

The elective system in the U.S. turns off many would be voters with its structural design. The Electoral College allows for a winner of the popular vote to not be elected, as has occurred twice now in the new millennium, which disheartens some voters. Candidates winning office with a plurality of the vote and not a majority is often seen as undemocratic.

Even the simple day of the election – a Tuesday – adds unnecessary difficulty. People find it hard to take off from work and school or to find time outside those commitments to vote. For college students particularly those studying far from home this problem is especially significant and only imperfectly addressed by absentee ballots.

Compounding these structural issues are the actions that elected officials engage in, in order to aid their own reelection. Unnecessarily harsh and stringent voter I.D. laws that block or aim to block significant segments of U.S. citizens from voting is one common action. By far the most pervasive issue, though, is gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary is: “to divide or arrange (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”

Gerrymandering itself is not remotely a new phenomenon, it has existed almost since the beginning of the American Republic. What is a new and concerning development is technology allowing political parties to gerrymander with pinpoint precision as well as a new trend among the parties in how they gerrymander.

In the past, political parties were inclined to arrange election districts where their political strength is relatively well distributed so that in wave elections they could gain staggering amounts of seats. In recent decades, gerrymandering has changed from that mode to parties maximizing their own representation by building safe districts and packing their opponents into a  smaller amount of districts that would be safely their opponents.

Most of the time when people talk about gerrymandering, they are discussing it on the national level. Gerrymandering affects who receives the majority for representation in the House, but the issue is far worse at the state level.

In the 2016 elections for state representatives across the nation, the Denver Post calculated that 42 percent of candidates ran unopposed. The reason found in most instances was gerrymandered districts giving one party an advantage ranging from distinct to overwhelming in hundreds of races.

Though 2018 has revealed itself to be slightly better in this regard, the issue still remains. In over 25 of Missouri’s 163 member House of Representatives races in 2018 candidates face no opposition in the general election.

The 2018 election does show signs of breaking with the past in regards to political turnout. The polarizing election of Donald Trump has energized young people in both support and opposition to the president.

Young people in 2018 have turned out in rallies, protests, and marches across the country in response to the President. One in five Americans, including young people, have participated in political protests since 2016. Young people are at the vanguard of socio-political movements across the U.S. from the survivors of the Parkland Shooting in Florida have spearheaded a nationwide movement aimed at achieving stricter gun laws to the Millennials and Generation Z activists driving the #MeToo Movement.

Energy is particularly notable on the left, where young voters have been buoyed by an influx of diverse, youthful candidates like the now famous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who toppled powerful House Democrat Joe Crowley in their primary. While the right has been less active, the contentious confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh stirred their ire and there have been signs in recent polls that the right’s energy is rising.

Photo courtesy of wsj.com.

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