MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — What do the Maltese, the Uzbeks and the Cambodians have in common? In the 1990s, they voted at nearly twice the rate of Americans. In a survey of turnout in 163 countries, the United States came in 140th.
According to the Federal Election Commission, out of 205 million eligible voters in 2000, 156 million were registered but only 105 million actually cast a ballot. If the same holds true this year, 100 million Americans might not get to the polls — unless they overcome whatever is holding them back. Since people of all political stripes agree this is a crucial election, why don't more Americans vote?
They're intimidated by long ballots. Many people don't realize they don't have to answer every question. They can vote for a single candidate and leave the rest blank.
They're busy. No one likes to wait in line. But perhaps they don't know that some states allow early voting, including on weekends. In Iowa and Arizona, polls are already open. Some Florida counties open Oct. 18.
They don't realize that they can vote absentee, which allows more time to read the ballot at home.
They don't come from a voting family. Susan Clark of the Easy Voter Guide in California cites this as a predictor of whether adults vote. If your parents didn't vote, you probably don't think it's important either. (So take your kids to the polls with you!)
They're afraid of being called for jury duty. This is based on a myth. Jury duty selection in most states is taken from driver's license lists, not voter lists.
They don't realize they can request a ballot in a different language. In most states, voters can also bring a friend or family member along to translate.
They're afraid of discrimination. The legacy of Jim Crow runs deep for African-American voters, especially in the South. No one is allowed to ask a voter to pass a test at the polling place. This right was hard-earned. We all need to take responsibility to ensure access for all eligible voters on Election Day.
They come from a country where voting against an incumbent had negative consequences. In Latin American countries run by military juntas, voting for an opposition candidate might have brought danger to the family. Many new citizens also don't believe their ballots are secret. They're fearful, so they stay home. (Paradoxically, in the 1990s citizens of Paraguay and El Salvador still voted in higher percentages than Americans.)
They come from a country where voting had no consequences. Friends from China remind me that they vote for mayors and local officials. They just don't have a lot of choices. This same complaint is voiced by many Americans — "I'd vote, but I don't like the candidates." Unfortunately, the time to resolve this is not November.
After 2000, no one can claim that a single vote can't change the outcome. Less than 600 votes in Florida sent George W. Bush to the White House. Everything indicates this election is going to be similarly close and once again, may be decided right here.
Maybe they just don't like being pressured. And who can blame them? When was the last time that anyone cared this much about hurricane victims in Tampa or freshmen at Ohio State? So don't lecture. Listen to what people say, and let them know their opinions matter.
If you want friends and neighbors to vote, just ask them. Offer to discuss the ballot pamphlet together or go with them to the polling place.
Most states have registration deadlines in early October, but some — such as Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wyoming and parts of Wisconsin — allow registration up to Election Day.
This year, every vote counts. Make sure yours does, too.
Diana J. Wynne is a writer and producer of multimedia content. She wrote and produced "Joyce to the World," a documentary celebrating Bloomsday and the passionate readers of James Joyce's 'Ulysses.'