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Why We Need Fireworks at the Voting Booth this Year

July 1, 2016

On July 4, 1776, America declared to the world it was a new and independent nation, no longer ruled by an English monarch but a government that existed for the benefit of its people. At the heart of this new democracy was the belief that the powers of government were given by the consent of the majority and that the actions of government should represent the will of the majority. According to Thomas Jefferson, “The fundamental principle of [a common government of associated States] is that the will of the majority is to prevail.”

But the will of the majority of Americans does not prevail. At least not yet. Right now the groups that make up the majority of Americans who can vote, do not make up the majority of citizens who do vote, meaning the voices and views of the majority are not fully represented by government at any level. That could change this November.

The combination of single women, people of color and young people under 35 make up the Rising American Electorate (RAE) and account for about 57% of the Americans eligible to vote. Up until this year’s election, they have never been the majority of voters. Their best showing was in 2012 when they made up 48% of the electorate. This election, the Voter Participation Center (VPC), through its registration and Get-Out-the Vote programs, is working to make the RAE over half of all voters and to increase this New American Majority’s share of the electorate in every election to come.

Since 2004, VPC has been uniquely successful in increasing the number and diversity of Americans who participate in our democracy. This week, VPC celebrates a milestone in the civic engagement world: Counting partial returns from registration applications sent to RAE voters in 13 states last month, VPC has now helped register more than three million members of the RAE; and studies show VPC registrants turn out at exceptionally high rates. No other organization has done more to reshape the American electorate over the last 12 years.

Yet despite the effectiveness of our work with our partners and colleagues, over four-out-of-ten RAE members are still not registered to vote. The chance we have this year to transform the electorate is enormous, the need for the majority to be heard, never greater. Changing policy and politics in Washington and in the states demands the participation of the RAE, especially now, with everything on the line – the Presidency, the Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and the balance of state legislatures across the country.

Increasing voter participation will be a challenge. The RAE—and particularly millennials—are showing less enthusiasm about the election than many other voter groups. That’s one of the findings of a new poll conducted in nine battleground states by our sister organization, the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.

The huge number of RAE members, their explosive growth in key states, and historically progressive leanings have created an operating environment favorable to increasing their participation in both candidate and ballot races. There are 125 million members of the RAE and their numbers are increasing. Almost all the key toss-up states saw significant RAE growth between 2010 and 2016, including more than 30 percent in Nevada (30.8%) and close to that in Colorado (28.4%) and Florida (27.1%). For the first time in history, more unmarried women will be eligible to vote than married women and single women make up at least 25 percent of the eligible voters in every competitive state and have also seen significant growth in key states.

The most unusual, unpredictable election season in U.S. history has also created a rare opportunity for national soul searching that could yield a deeply and broadly engaged electorate. Americans know they will not be choosing only between candidates this November, but between two sharply competing visions for our nation and our future. Will we be open to diversity or shut down our borders? Over the next four years, will it become harder or easier to vote, get health care or a college education, and earn paid sick days and wages that support families? Will we be a nation where the will of the majority prevails or a country that works only for the wealthy and the powerfully-connected?

This set of stark choices could help drive the registration and turn out of enough RAE voters to decide the election and, hopefully, lead to an enactment of a set of policies that reforms the way we run elections and our government, closes the gap between rich and poor, pays women the same as men working the same job, reforms the criminal justice system, and ensures that every American has a shot at success.

This July Fourth, celebrate the birth and resiliency of our nation with fireworks, parades and family picnics. And please do one more thing to honor our democracy — make plans to register and participate on November 8 and help America deliver on the promise of majority rule.

 

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