Why We'll Never Really Know Who America Wants As President — Unless We Shake Things Up

Not even the election will tell us everything.

Blake Tan was 20 years old during the 2012 presidential election, but unlike many of his friends, he never entered an Ohio voting booth. It wasn't that he was exercising his right to abstain — he wasn't allowed to punch a ballot.

The Philippines-born college student and his family had yet to complete the minimum of four years living in the U.S. as permanent residents, a requirement to apply for full citizenship. So instead of voting, he got involved in the election by organizing, volunteering, and even writing op-eds. He was frustrated when he noticed that some of the people who could vote, didn't.

"Voting is a responsibility," Tan, who became a citizen in 2013, told A Plus. "It's not just a fun, optional part of living in a democratic society — it's my job as a citizen to be informed and to vote. If I fail in doing so, then I don't deserve to live in a democracy."

Tan and his family at his swearing in ceremony. Photo: Helen Hissong.
Tan and his family at his swearing in ceremony. Photo: Helen Hissong.

In that 2012 election, Pew Research Center estimates that only 53.6 percent of eligible American voters actually voted. In 2008, the United States' voter turnout of 62 percent was ranked 25th of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Put another way: despite our tendency to put our democracy on a pedestal, relatively few people are taking part in the democratic process.

In the 2014 midterm elections, things were even worse. Only 36.4 percent of eligible voters showed up and cast a ballot. To get to the bottom of the low turnout, the Census Bureau asked those that didn't show up what their reasoning was. 28 percent said they were too busy, 16 percent said they weren't interested, 10 percent said they were out of town and 8 percent said they simply forgot, according to The Washington Post.

"I think that if any of the Founding Fathers learned that there were people who didn't vote on election day because they just 'didn't feel like it,'  they would have a stroke!" Tan said. "And a hernia! A hernia-stroke! Then die because they didn't have health insurance."

Photo: Helen Hissong
Photo: Helen Hissong

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of the job our current president is doing, a number that might seem strange side-by-side with the percentage of people who show up to the polls to vote for their preferred candidate. As Tan points out, voter responsibility is an essential part of a functioning democracy.

But there is some good news, too: no matter where on the political spectrum you fall, you can find a reason to get up and get to the polls this year.

"It is the MOST patriotic thing you can do, if you're a card-carrying nationalist," Tan told A Plus. "It is the MOST change you can effect as a single citizen, if you're a bleeding-heart progressive."

If you want to register to vote, just follow this link. 

Cover photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images.