“Why would a Republican bother to vote in the District of Columbia or a Democrat in Utah, knowing that his or her vote could not possibly count in the election?”
Those words appeared in a 1988 letter to the editor in the New York Times, but they could just as easily have been written thirty years later. Today, voters in many states have the same feeling of being “spectators” to the presidential election, because the overwhelming majority of candidates’ resources are focused on battleground states. As a result, voter turnout in the battlegrounds far outstrips turnout in spectator states.
Nine out of every ten Americans believe that high turnout in presidential elections is important and that voting is important to good citizenship. In 2016, only 58% of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election, but most battleground states experienced voter turnouts much higher than the national numbers.
Although other factors can contribute to higher voter turnout—for example, state procedures that make voting more convenient—a state’s battleground status produces an undeniable bump. Analysis of voter turnout over multiple election cycles shows that new-christened battleground states see an average 5% increase in voter turnout. States that move in the opposite direction—becoming spectators after having been battlegrounds in the prior election cycle—see an average 2% decrease.
The letter quoted above sums up the feeling of many spectator state voters. What’s the use in voting if my state is already decided? Why bother voting if my state gives all its electoral votes to one candidate, regardless of how many people voted for someone else? People naturally don’t want to vote if they feel that their vote won’t count.
Electing the president based on the national popular vote would make every state a battleground, increasing voter turnout across the nation. Candidates would no longer compete for votes in a handful of states. Voters would no longer feel that their state nullified their vote by using the winner-take-all system. High voter turnout is crucial for democracy, and the best way to achieve that turnout is to make the process truly democratic.