During last Monday’s Radford City Council meeting, City of Radford General Registrar and Director of Elections Tracy Howard explained the need to split Radford’s East Precinct into two separate voting districts.
The number of registered voters and actual voters has been growing steadily over the last 12 years, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to handle the large numbers of voters trying to vote in the single East Precinct during the 13-hour window of time allotted for the process.
Howard presented the council with three different possible splits that the Electoral Board recommended. The preferred option uses Tyler Avenue and Rock Road as the outline for the division because it has a readily observable boundary that will reduce voter confusion.
It maintains a ratio of permanent and transient registrants. It also creates ease of accessibility by either walking or driving and provides for simpler administration and notification. It is also re-divisible, if necessary, in the future.
Howard pointed out that college students have the option of choosing to vote in their hometown or the college town they live in by law.
He also pointed out that both Democrats and Republicans recruit students and that those numbers are pretty evenly divided in that category.
Once the city council decides on the boundaries and the polling place (Grove UMC was recommended), there will be a public hearing and final council approval of the ordinance.
Howard did an excellent job of reviewing possible scenarios and the data necessary to proactively provide the most efficient and sensible recommendation to the board (as an aside, Howard has 26 years’ experience with the election process, and Radford is fortunate to have him).
He also mentioned that throughout Virginia there has been a sharp increase in registration, partially explained by online and DMV voter registration.
This is a very good thing.
A republic that uses democratic means to elect representatives relies on a large number of its citizens being involved in the voting process. People should cherish the right to vote. It is a right that many countries (dictators) do not afford their citizens. Citizens get the kind of government they elect, and if they do not participate, they have to accept the results, whatever they may be.
Unfortunately, many Americans do not participate in a right other people would die for in their own countries.
In the 2016 elections, 68 percent of the eligible voters voted. Here are some voting rates from other countries around the world in ascending order: Australia: 91 percent; Luxembourg: 91.2 percent; Malta: 92.1 percent; Ethiopia: 93.2 percent; Singapore: 93.6 percent; Laos: 97.9 percent; Rwanda: 98.8 percent; and Vietnam: 99.3 percent. Yes, many of these are smaller countries, but their citizens do value participation in the voting process.
Here are some others to compare with the US percentage of 68: Belgium: 87.2; Denmark: 80.3; Sweden: 82.6. In fact, of the developed nations, the United States ranks 26th in voter participation.
How can more voters be encouraged to take part in the democratic process?
Here are some suggestions that have been kicking around for a while:
1. Allow people to schedule a voting time. Who likes long lines? One suggestion is to allow people to schedule a time to come in to vote, perhaps through a computerized process with dedicated lines in the polling area. They can pick their time and come in and leave quickly.
2. Give people the flexibility of when they vote over several days. This is even better than a scheduled time on one day. Allow people several days from which to choose to make it more convenient. Yes, there is the absentee ballot, but this more generalized approach may snag last-minute voters.
3. Vote on Saturday when more people have the day off, instead of on a Tuesday of a hectic work week.
4. Make election day a national holiday so everyone has the day off and there is no excuse for not voting.
5. Move up election day to the first Saturday in October to avoid severe weather. Snow in the South in November is not a problem, but inclement weather in the northern states sometimes is.
6. Many countries like Sweden, Germany and Chile make registration automatic at birth. Once a citizen becomes old enough to vote, they’re automatically eligible without having to file any paperwork (keyword: citizen). There would still be verification, but it certainly would make things simpler.
These are just a few ideas. Yes, like everything else, there is a cost involved, but getting more citizens to vote is essential. Isn’t it a shame that in local elections, sometimes only a third of the eligible voters actually vote? Even in presidential elections, many citizens fail to register and then about a third of the eligible voters don’t take the time to vote.
Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Nathan Hale said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Many Americans today say, “I don’t have time to vote, and my vote isn’t going to make a difference anyway.”
Voting does make a difference.
Because of the Electoral College, only 77, 744 votes in three swing states (out of more than about 125 million votes in the US) changed the last presidential election.
Elections have consequences, and Henry and Hale would be shocked and disgusted at America’s apathy and lack of participation in democracy.
If patriotism and civic duty are not enough to get people out to vote, perhaps making it easier with some of the ideas other countries use will help.
One thing is for sure, America has one of the best systems of democracy in the world, but it is only as good as the people make it by voting. Hopefully, more people will begin to realize that fact beginning this November!
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.