Some Thoughts On Voter Turnout

(8 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Although official voter turnout figures won’t be available until the 2008 elections are certified in each state, Dr. Michael McDonald of George Mason University has published a list of estimated voter turnout percentages.  

My revised national turnout rate for those eligible to vote is 61.2% or 130.4 million ballots cast for president. This represents an increase of 1.1 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004, but it falls short of the 1968 turnout rate of 62.5%.

McDonald has also compiled some statistics on early voting in the 2008 election.  The information is a bit jumbled and incomplete, but the bottom line I was looking for suggests that 25.7% of votes cast nationally were cast early, compared to 22.5% in the 2004 election.  With all the stories we heard about a massive turnout expected, I was curious how early voting affected the turnout in states that offer it and whether either candidate gained a clear advantage from early voting.

The table below shows McDonald’s turnout figures by state, plus columns for whether a state allowed “no excuse” early voting, and who carried the state.  The linked article will show the states alphabetically, but I’ve sorted them from “most patriotic” to “least patriotic”:

State Turnout % Total Votes (est) +/- vs 2004 Early Voting? Voted For:
Minnesota   77.9% 2,915,000 -0.5% No Obama
Maine   73.0% 750,000 -0.8% Yes Obama
Wisconsin   72.2% 2,970,000 -2.6% Yes Obama
New Hampshire   71.9% 720,000 1.0% No Obama
Michigan   70.0% 5,100,000 3.4% No Obama
Iowa   69.2% 1,525,000 -0.7% Yes Obama
Missouri   68.0% 2,925,000 2.7% No McCain
Virginia   67.4% 3,720,000 6.8% No Obama
Florida   67.2% 8,400,000 2.8% Yes Obama
Montana   67.2% 500,000 2.8% Yes McCain
Connecticut 67.1% 1,650,000 2.1% No Obama
Maryland   67.0% 2,600,000 4.1% No Obama
Wyoming   66.6% 260,000 0.9% Yes McCain
Colorado   66.5% 2,300,000 -0.2% Yes Obama
North Carolina   66.4% 4,350,000 8.6% Yes Obama
Oregon   66.4% 1,800,000 -5.6% No Obama
Delaware   66.3% 415,000 2.1% No Obama
Massachusetts   66.2% 3,060,000 2.0% No Obama
North Dakota   65.5% 320,000 0.7% Yes McCain
Washington   64.9% 2,950,000 -2.0% No Obama
South Dakota   64.2% 385,000 -4.0% Yes McCain
Vermont   63.5% 310,000 -2.8% Yes Obama
Louisiana   63.4% 1,960,000 2.3% Yes McCain
Ohio   63.4% 5,400,000 -3.4% Yes Obama
Idaho   63.2% 660,000 0.0% Yes McCain
New Jersey   63.0% 3,700,000 -0.8% No Obama
Alaska   62.4% 300,000 -6.7% Yes McCain
Nebraska   62.4% 800,000 -0.5% Yes McCain
Pennsylvania   62.4% 5,850,000 -0.2% No Obama
Georgia   62.3% 4,000,000 6.1% Yes McCain
Rhode Island   62.1% 470,000 3.6% No Obama
Alabama   61.8% 2,100,000 4.6% No McCain
California   61.5% 13,600,000 2.7% Yes Obama
Illinois   61.3% 5,400,000 -0.2% Yes Obama
Kansas   61.3% 1,210,000 -0.3% Yes McCain
Nevada   59.4% 1,000,000 4.1% Yes Obama
Indiana   59.2% 2,750,000 4.4% Yes Obama
New Mexico   58.9% 820,000 -0.1% Yes Obama
South Carolina   58.8% 1,930,000 5.8% No McCain
Mississippi   57.9% 1,220,000 2.2% No McCain
Kentucky   57.7% 1,830,000 -1.0% No McCain
Tennessee   57.7% 2,630,000 1.4% Yes McCain
New York   57.5% 7,500,000 -0.5% No Obama
District of Columbia   57.3% 250,000 3.0% No Obama
Oklahoma   56.7% 1,470,000 -1.6% Yes McCain
Arkansas   56.5% 1,150,000 2.9% Yes McCain
Arizona   56.1% 2,300,000 2.0% Yes McCain
Texas   54.6% 8,100,000 0.9% Yes McCain
Hawaii   51.4% 460,000 3.2% Yes Obama
Utah   50.8% 900,000 -8.1% Yes McCain
West Virginia   50.3% 710,000 -3.8% Yes McCain

(if you ever doubted that God speaks to us, please note that Dick Cheney’s home state, Wyoming, had a voter turnout percentage of 66.6%)  

So far I am not finding too many nice, neat conclusions.  Of the staes that allowed early voting, fifteen saw an increase in voter turnout, fifteen saw a decrease in voter turnout, and one had no change.  The states that allowed early voting split a bit better for McCain (17) than Obama (14).  And looking at only the early-voting states whose voter turnout increased over 2004 also shows a bit better performance for McCain (9) than Obama (7).  I am seeing a correlation, however, in high voter turnout in states that thought the McCain-Palin ticket sucked.

The states whose voter turnout decreased the most from 2004 were Utah, dropping 8.1%, and (ahem) Alaska, dropping 6.7%.  Both were McCain states.  The states whose voter turnout increased the most from 2004 were North Carolina (up 8.6%), Virginia (up 6.8%), Georgia (up 6.1%), South Carolina (up 5.8%), and Alabama (up 4.6%).  All are states with significant African-American populations, despite a theme developing in the conservative media (example: Human Events) that voter turnout did not substantially increase among African-Americans.  

I think all states should offer early voting and that it will continue to gain in popularity, although more slowly than may have been expected.  But if about 75% of voters are still voting on the traditional election day, there could be a better opportunity to increase voter turnout.  As everyone knows, we hold our elections on Tuesday because:

In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was.

I know this will be sacrilege to the horse-and-buggy industry, but I would like to see a renewed effort to move our voting day to Sunday instead of Tuesday.  A quick Google search does not turn up a stampede of activism on this issue.  It has gotten some attention in the past, but it seems we may have put our hopes on early voting instead.  

The following is a partial list of countries that Americans feel superior to (for a full list, buy a globe), and yet they all have higher voter turnout rates than we do:

Country     Election Day Turnout %
Australia Saturday 84.4%
Sweden Sunday 83.3%
Germany Sunday 80.6%
Greece Sunday 80.3%
Finland Sunday 79.0%
Spain Sunday 77.0%
Turkey Sunday 73.5%
Japan Sunday 69.0%
France Sunday 67.3%
Ukraine Sunday 66.1%

What do these countries have in common?  They don’t hold their elections on Tuesday.  Specifically, they hold their elections on a weekend day when most citizens aren’t working.  Certainly voting on Sunday isn’t the only factor in turnout rates, but anything to make voting easier seems worth consideration.  It would cut down on work-related hassles like poll hour conficts, commuting, and day-care arrangements that make it difficult for many voters on a work day.  It lessens the chance of missing election day because of work travel (this happened to me in 2006 when an unexpected business trip caused me to miss voting).  And it would make it easier for volunteers to work at the polls on a non-work day.  So today I went to and submitted a request to change our voting day from Tuesday to Sunday.  I know it isn’t a very exciting cause, but all the good causes were taken already.


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  1. and thanks for reading.

    Any other thoughts on increasing voter turnout?

    Mail-in ballots like Oregon has?

    Internet voting?

    Threats of roving torture squads?

  2. research project would be to try to determine the reasons people didn’t vote. The results would not only be interesting – but could inform what needs to be done to increase the turnout.

    Oh, and of course I can’t go without some mention of the state that is at the top of the list in voter turnout. Bragging???? You betcha!!!!!

  3. is a damn good one. I would only add to make it a long weekend it isn’t like Americans are over run with holiday time.

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