Who's not voting in Connecticut?

People vote at the polling station at Harbor School in New London on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. There are 2.16 million people registered to vote in Connecticut, an all-time high for the state. But plenty of people who are eligible to vote still haven't registered.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People vote at the polling station at Harbor School in New London on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. There are 2.16 million people registered to vote in Connecticut, an all-time high for the state. But plenty of people who are eligible to vote still haven't registered. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

As of Wednesday, the last day to register to vote in Connecticut, 2.16 million people were registered — an all-time high for the state, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

But plenty of eligible voters in Connecticut still haven't registered. Voters still can register in person on Election Day at a designated location in their city or town.

Census data shows that there's about 2.8 million people of voting age in Connecticut. That number doesn't differentiate between those who are eligible to vote and those who are not.

Voter turnout tends to be higher during presidential elections, and registration usually surges leading up to those elections.

"I would argue that's when your vote counts the least," Secretary of State Denise Merrill said of the surge during presidential elections. "Local government is what impacts your life the most."

The segment of the population with the highest voting rate is white and over the age of 50, Merrill said. The 2016 Connecticut Civil Health Index, which measured civic engagement, including political participation, found that voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election was 65.8 percent for whites, 62.2 percent for African-Americans and 47 percent for Latinos.

Usually young people aged 18 to 24 have low voter turnout rates, Merrill said. Some reasons for that could be because they're not paying taxes yet, she said. They also don't own homes, and they tend to move around a lot.

But Connecticut has seen a big bump in young people registering to vote. Data from Merrill's office show that as of Oct. 10, there were 51,659 registered young voters. That's up from 7,960 as of Oct. 10, 2014.

Oftentimes young voters, like college students, don't own a car, so to help facilitate better voter turnout among this population, polling places could be set up on college campuses, or schools could provide buses to take students to the polls, said Carolyn Lin, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut.

"We don't really make voting easy," Lin said.

Other countries offer voting on two different days — like Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday — when people typically are not working, and allow citizens to register and vote on the same day, in the same setting, she said. In the U.S., Election Day always falls on a Tuesday, a day when most people work.

The U.S. voting system is very localized and varies from place to place, which can intimidate and confuse potential voters, Lin said.

"People who are lower income, minority groups, younger tend not to vote. How can we make voting a little easier so fewer people feel disenfranchised?" she said. "They tend to also be the people who don't understand politics as well, and the power they possess with their vote."

Bob Lupton, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at UConn, said that as the country has become more polarized, those who are more likely to sit out are unaffiliated voters who don't have "partisan ties."

Lupton said an automatic national voter registration system would simplify the process and remove some uncertainty people have about how difficult it is to register to vote. People, even those who are less connected or interested in politics, tend to become more engaged around elections, and that's when registration is key.

Some people simply chose not to vote. A common reason given is "my vote doesn't count."

"If you really count up the number of people who say that, that's a huge voting block," Lin said. "If even one tenth of those people went to vote, the voting outcomes might be different."

There's both psychological and social reasons for why people don't vote, she said. Some people don't feel connected to the political system.

There's also a deep sense of cynicism in the country right now around politics, and a sense that politicians are dishonest, which makes people feel their vote can't change the system, Lin said.

People need to be empowered, which, she said, "is honestly not very difficult to do." She called it retail politics — neighbors, friends, family mobilizing one another. "Watershed events" in history, such as war or social movements, motivate people to vote in higher numbers, she added.

"Even though we do have a large number of people living in poverty, overall we are a wealthy country," Lin said. "In wealthy countries, unless there's a watershed event, people go about their days unless something really hits them. They don't think about it on a daily basis."

j.bergman@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments