“Why would people choose not to vote?” I pondered, in the middle of a long game of Snake on my phone. There I was, stress levels through the roof, as I stood in line at my polling site, sweating in my leopard-print coat, clutching my ballot protectively as other voters bumped along. While promising early-voting stats set the stage for higher-than-normal levels of voter turnout at today’s midterm election, historically speaking, only 4 out of 10 eligible people actually cast their ballot. How is that possible? Why do voters decide against voting?
In the last midterm election, 36 percent of the eligible voter population actually saw out their civic duty (it was reportedly the lowest turnout in over 70 years), and in 2010, 2006, and 2002, the voting rate hovered right around 40 percent. Less than half the population showing up for the midterms is a solid trend—but for the love of the future of this nation, why?
“Some feel depressed and apathetic and feel that their voice doesn’t matter, even though that’s not true.” —Paulette Sherman, PsyD
According to New York City–based psychologist Dr. Paulette Sherman, PsyD, the reason tends to be a blend of emotional factors and a lack of convenience. “Some feel depressed and apathetic, and feel that their voice doesn’t matter, even though that’s not true,” Dr. Sherman says.
And doesn’t it kind of make sense that the vibe of hopelessness permeates the voting experience for many? If your emotional association with election season is negative, stress-invoking, and anxiety-provoking, it stands to reason that your willingness to get to the polls could be compromised. And, keep in mind, stress leading into the election season is real. In fact the 2018 Stress in America Report from the American Psychological Association notes that 68 percent of Gen Z Americans are stressed about the future of the country, and a survey from Everyday Health found that while 43 percent of people are invigorated by stress (which could lead to a higher likelihood of voting), the other 57 percent are paralyzed by it.
Less easy to empathize with is the “busy” excuse. “Other times people forget to register,” Dr. Sherman says. “When they do actually register, they are much more likely to follow through and vote. And also, many claim they are too busy with work and full schedules to fit it in.”
Wow really? While it’s certainly eye-roll-worthy to shirk your civic duty in the name of busyness, the excuse is common. According to the United States Census Bureau of the 19 million registered voters who didn’t vote in the last election, 14.3 percent say it’s because they were too busy. And while my eyes are, like, Exorcist-style up in my skull right now just reporting that stat, it should be noted that not everyone gets off work to vote, meaning squeezing in the errand is actually a bit tricky.
Choosing to vote is the difference between, “this may not change anything” and “this definitely won’t change anything.”
Furthermore, some people do choose to vote and can’t. Voter suppression is real and rampant. Several incidents in Georgia made headlines this year alone, including one abominable instance of a bus of 40 black senior citizens being stopped on their way to vote. Obviously, if you sense that kind of shadiness at your polling location, you can call the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE or Text “Our Vote” to 97779.
So is there any winning? Is there a way to convince people to get out there? Well, I’m just a girl in over-size outerwear, but I think being able to recognize that the system is discouraging should propel us to fight even harder. Because honestly, the best way to reform an underserving government is to…well, implement well-educated voting. Choosing to vote is the difference between, “this may not change anything” and “this definitely won’t change anything.”
And I get you if your mental health is under attack from the stress of election season, but things will not get better with inaction. Prepare a self-care plan that’ll nourish you, no matter the results. But if you can, go out and vote. Because, no amount of face masks will enrich your life the way casting a ballot for what you believe in holds the potential to do.
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