U.S. Election 2020: Raising Voter Participation — AΦA and NAACP Partnership in the Midwestern Region

The United States of America are two months away from the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R) are now officially in the race for the next presidency. The U.S. might be more divided than ever and in times of persistent civil unrest, a global pandemic and challenges arising from that crisis, it might be one of the most important elections of our time. The stakes are high.

Considering the past, a strong voter turnout is fundamental to a democracy. However, when looking back on previous national elections in the United States, voter turnout fluctuates. About 60 percent of the population being eligible to vote, voted during presidential election years. During midterm elections, voter turnout is only about 40 percent. The highest midterm turnout on record at 49.6 percent is from 2018.[1]

Compared to other democracies worldwide, the United States’ voter turnout is low, especially when it comes to rates of youth voter turnout.[2] It might be due to lack of interest in politics, the Generation Z being apathetic about what is politically happening in the country, the youth being self-absorbed[3] or simply not being registered.[4]

Large segments of the population have already lost confidence in democratic structures. To give an example, the approval rate for the work of Congress is less than 10 percent.[5] In contrast, in Germany in 2017, the voter turnout in the Bundestag elections has been 76.2 percent. The 2009 federal elections mark the lowest level of voter turnout in Germany, at “only” 70.8 percent.[6]

What is it that keeps people from voting and how can voter participation be increased?

I reached out to Luke T. Kues from Cincinnati, Ohio, currently a student at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), double majoring in biology and psychology, having gained several leadership positions and being involved in multiple organizations and projects, in order to talk about the reasons for such low poll participation and how voter turnouts can be increased.

Luke helped establish the partnership between the Midwestern region of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the region three of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It is comprised of nine different states in the Midwestern region and the objective in the partnership is to increase voter participation in the 2020 election. The target group is everyone.

In the 2016 presidential election, 232 million Americans have been eligible to vote. However, “only” about 139 million Americans voted which makes up about 60 percent of the voting-eligible population.[7] The goal of Luke and others involved in the partnership is to increase the number of people who vote as it in turn can increase voter participation in general, meaning the aim is to not only elect officials in this election but also to elect officials in the future that truly represent the majority of the people in the United States as right now, the elected officials represent only the majority of people who vote. However, that is clearly not the majority of people in the United States.

According to Luke, increasing voter participation can be done through two major tactics: organizing and communicating to bring awareness through events, social media campaigns and reducing voter suppression.
Reducing and combatting voter suppression in different areas and working with lawmakers is crucial to ensure that people are not suppressed and hindered to get to the polls without fear preventing them from being displayed.

Also, NKU itself makes an effort in working towards registering people to vote to actually make sure everyone is registered to vote before Election Day. The main work is with the incoming freshmen as that is the biggest population of students who are not registered to vote yet. Furthermore, Luke and a couple other students are currently working on a resolution to pass through a student government Association. The resolution is going to provide resource for the 2020 election such as removing barriers.
One example would be allowing students to have an excused absence if they have to drive home to go vote. Another resource being added would be advocating for NKU to have a polling place on campus for the 2020 election as well as having the university provide financial support for different organizations on campus which are going to be hosting voter education registration or mobilization programs or any events related to the upcoming election.

One important focus in the committee is the resolution already written at NKU which will be sent out to all universities and colleges throughout the nine states that are involved in the partnership. They in turn can pass similar resolutions on their campuses. Beyond that, the goal is to work with state officials and pass the resolution at the state level so that it is mandated down through all colleges and universities.

Looking at the voter turnout in 2018, Kentucky ranked 32nd among the 50 states and D.C..[8] Its low voter participation could be due to lack of presidential campaign attention which is way less than in other states such as Florida, Georgia or Texas.[9] Certainly, different suppression tactics keep people from the polls as well as the mindset that one has either to vote for a Republican or a Democrat, the only options.

Kentucky has been reliably Republican since the 1950s[10], although some trend has been noticed by Luke during the 2019 election, when Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was elected Governor. It was a big surprise for the people in Kentucky. However, both Luke and I do not anticipate Kentucky changing from a red to a blue state anytime soon, given the identities that the majority of people in Kentucky associated themselves with.

Overall, the political system became more and more divisive. It seems like leaders of the left are extremely left and leaders of the right are extremely right and the majority of people in the U.S. falls somewhere in the middle. Luke would like to see the middle start to be addressed and identified more whether that means the right and left coming closer to the middle or if that means as they are so divided at this point that something needs to come out of the middle of that is a third party or independent. Otherwise, the way the political system is right now is not going to last for too much longer as everything is just completely sensationalized by the media.

The upcoming election is going to be a very important one as it is going to set a tone for what this country truly believes. It is going to be a true reflection of this country and what kind of a president it will accept.

The views in these piece are solely those of Christina Pletowski and Luke T. Kues. Numbers, facts and statistics are taken from the sources listed below.

[1] No author, “Voter turnout”, fairvote.org, https://www.fairvote.org/voter_turnout#voter_turnout_101
(accessed September 01, 2020).

[2] Holbein, John B and Hillygus, D. Sunshine, “Young People Want To Vote. So How Do We Get Them To The Polls?”, Civic Nation Brandvoice, Forbes.com, April 7, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/civicnation/2020/04/07/the-time-is-now-to-equip-young-people-to-be-good-voters/#3b8023b2dc58 (accessed September 01, 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kitroeff, Natalie, “Politicians: Millennials Won’t Vote Because They Hate You”, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg.com, October 31, 2014, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-31/young-people-dont-care-about-voting (accessed September 01, 2020).

[5] Dieter, Ralf, “Trump und die US-Wahl: ‘Auf Deutschland könnte ein Horrorszenario zukommen’”, infranken.de, August 23, 2020, https://www.infranken.de/lk/kitzingen/lokales/horrorszenario-fuer-deutschland-art-5056537?fbclid=IwAR1LUly6vnRoZvuCEBAOcmLQDW8WmPx6lSB_gn_scGVdQ72Ur0h_goG9y3c (accessed September 01, 2020).

[6] Statista Research Department, “Wahlbeteiligung bei den Bundestagswahlen in Deutschland von 1949 bis 2017”, statista.com, March 09, 2020, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/2274/umfrage/entwicklung-der-wahlbeteiligung-bei-bundestagswahlen-seit-1949/
(accessed September 01, 2020).

[7] Harrington, Rebecca and Gould, Skye, “Americans beat one voter turnout record — here’s how 2016 compares with past elections”, Business Insider, Businessinsider.com, December 21, 2016, https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-voter-turnout-records-history-obama-clinton-2016-11?r=DE&IR=T (accessed September 01, 2020).

[8] No author, “Voter turnout”, fairvote.org, https://www.fairvote.org/voter_turnout#voter_turnout_101
(accessed September 01, 2020).

[9] Gerth, Joseph, “Gerth: Why Kentucky’s not a player in presidential primary races and never will be”, Louisville Courier Journal, eu.courier-journal.com, March 06, 2020, https://eu.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/joseph-gerth/2020/03/06/why-kentuckys-primary-so-late-in-presidential-primary-elections/4963422002/
(accessed September 01, 2020).

[10] No author, “Kentucky”, 270towin.com, 2020 Electoral Ventures LLC., https://www.270towin.com/states/Kentucky (accessed September 01, 2020).

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Christina Pletowski

Christina Pletowski

B.A. at LMU/NKU — Law student based in Germany, interested in global politics and economy. Exploring the future, trying to understand what’s going to be next.