While the election season has come to a close for 2018, no matter whom you voted for, win or lose, there is one victory that we should all be celebrating: voter registration rates were at all-time highs across the country for the 2018! The United Steelworkers and the Rapid Response program did our part to contribute to this success by holding several worksite registration drives, delivering thousands of voter information pieces, and showing up at rallies and events to verify or register new voters nationwide. Even more exciting to note, across the country, young people who data shows historically vote the least, are engaging in our democratic process in levels we haven’t seen in decades. While these are promising trends for our democracy, our engagement in voter registration should not go into hibernation until the next election cycle. If we have any hope of having a government that is truly representative of ALL of us, we must continue to work to make sure that we ALL vote. That starts with voter registration.
The numbers tell an amazing story. USAFacts, a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative aimed at making government data accessible and understandable, in their 2018 Annual Report reported that in 1964 of the 111 million people who were eligible to vote in the presidential election that year, 74.3% were registered. By 2016, we saw the percentage of registered voters drop to just 64.2% of the 246 million Americans eligible to vote. Those numbers are extremely indicative of the actual voting rate. In 1964, the voting rate of all eligible Americans was 69.3%, but by 2016 that number had dropped to just 56.0%. These numbers are for worse for midterm elections like the one we just had in 2018. According to the USAFacts report voting rates had plummeted in the midterms dropping from 55.4% in 1966 to only 38.5% in 2014, making voter registration that much more crucial.
Yet, the tides could be turning on this dismal civic engagement trend. A record number of eligible voters registered to vote in 2018 as part of the National Voter Registration Day, a national holiday that falls on the fourth Tuesday of every September, aimed at celebrating our democracy. On Tuesday, September 25 of this year, a record was set with over 800,000 eligible voters updating or registering for the first time! This surpassed the 2016 record of 771,321 during the presidential election cycle. The record number of 800,000+ is especially significant given that in 2014, the first midterm election since the National Voter Registration Day’s inception, that number only reached 154,000. The record number surprised even organizers for bucking the trend of decreased engagement during midterm cycles. And, that record translated into overall registration rates for the 2018 election cycle as report after report touted the victories. In Texas, Maryland, and Georgia, state voter registration records were shattered prior to the 2018 midterm and in Vermont voter registration hit an astounding high of 92.5%!
One of the most encouraging trends reported in this past election cycle is the rise in engagement of young voters. Young people between the ages of 18 – 24 historically vote in extremely low rates and typically sit out midterm elections. However, according to a report released in early October from the non-partisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, 18 – 24 year olds planned to vote in record-breaking numbers in the 2018 election. This would prove wrong the projected drop off in young voters after the 2016 election where for the first time ever millennials and Generation X voters outnumbered baby boomers and older voters at the ballot box. This could mean good things for Unions too! A recent Gallup poll reported that 68% of young people ages 18 – 34 approve of labor unions and 44% believe that labor unions should have more power. Those numbers were the highest of all age demographics. As they should be, given that in 2017 more than 70% of all new union members across the country fell into that age group. With this in mind, we should be hopeful that as young people register and vote in record numbers the labor movement’s interests will be well represented at the ballot box and in our elected officials.
While these trends and data are fantastic news in a time when our union and our country face so many tough challenges, we must not rest on our laurels. Voter registration is not restricted to campaign cycles, and one day a year on National Voter Registration Day is not nearly enough. Within our locals and our communities, we should be working year-round to make sure every eligible citizen is registered to vote. We can, and should, be holding voter registration drives at every event possible that we participate in, especially those sponsored by our local unions. At every local meeting we should have flyers and registration forms available. We must be on the lookout for legislation that adds additional hurdles to the voter registration process, making it more difficult to access this important right, and stand together against it. And, maybe most importantly, in our own homes we should get back to treating the right to vote like the privilege that it is. One that is sacred and many that came before us in this country fought and even died for. A right that across the globe so many do not enjoy. As our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews become of eligible voting age we should be treating voter registration like the “right of passage” that it truly is. In the same way that we encourage and celebrate a young person’s obtainment of their driver’s license, so too should we be encouraging and celebrating their voter registration card.
The data and trends are encouraging, but our work in registering others to vote is never done. In our fight for a government of the people and for the people, we must not stop. For more information on how you can get involved, contact a member of your local Rapid Response team, reach out to me, Randie Pearson, District 1 Rapid Response Coordinator at [email protected], or any of the other amazing Rapid Response Disrict Coordinators. This is how we Stand Up, and Fight Back!