For Immediate Release
/ May 27th 2005

FairVote Comments on U.S. Census Release of Voter Turnout Data

Executive Director Rob Richie Highlights Impact of Electoral College and a "Deeply Disturbing" Skew by Class

Today the U.S. Census released survey data on voter turnout in the United States in the 2004 presidential elections. The Census' survey approach historically inflates turnout estimates, yet is revealing for the information it provides about relative changes in turnout over time, among states and within categories of Americans. Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote - The Center for Voting and Democracy, today provided this comment on the release:

“The U.S. Census data provides further confirmation that the United States had a notable uptick in voter turnout in the 2004 elections. More Americans cared about which major party candidate won this election than in 2000, which was a natural by-product of an incumbent president who had generated both strong support and strong opposition heading into the election. But beneath the overall 4% increase in turnout are important details that demand more attention from our elected representatives. For example:

  1. Voter turnout in general was up more far more sharply in presidential battlegrounds than in the “spectator states” that are ignored by the presidential campaigns. The national parties and their allies invested nearly all their resources in voter registration and mobilization in these battleground states. The impact of this disparity in attention will only grow more pronounced in future elections as long as maintain the current Electoral College system.

  2. The class skew in American voter turnout is of deep concern. For example, of the 12 million American adults with less than a 9th grade education, only 23% voted in 2004. Of the 18 million Americans with an advanced degree, 77.5% voted - a rate more than three times greater. Of the 21 million Americans with some high school education but no degree, only 34.6% voted. Of the 37 million Americans with a Bachelor's degree, 72.7% voted.

    Similar stark disparities were revealed by age and level of income. Few other modern nations experience such differences. It's time to put a spotlight on a deeply troubling aspect of American elections: they in fact may well reinforce inequality rather than help our nation develop means to address it. Both parties need to take a long hard look at why they fail to reach all Americans. Political reformers need to consider what reforms might spark a politics that engaged Americans on a more equal basis. For FairVote, that means we must rethink exclusive reliance on winner-take-all, plurality elections that make it too easy for large numbers of Americans to have their interests and views poorly represented by candidates seeking office.

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