Sept. 22, 2016 12:16 PM

On Sept. 27, Americans will celebrate National Voter Registration Day. Since 2012, this holiday encourages us as a nation to spend time registering Americans to engage in a most patriotic act, exercising the right to vote.

There are only two requirements to vote in the United States: citizenship and reaching 18 years old. In Louisiana, individuals can register to vote at 16, but must be at least 18 to vote in any election. Eligibility is the easy part. Across the country, the US Census Bureau reports that of those eligible to register, 71 percent have done so. Compare this to Canada and the UK where 91 percent of eligible voters are registered, 96 percent in Sweden and 99 percent in Japan. As a nation we have work to do.

The League of Women Voters of Lafayette is proud to be a National Voter Registration Day partner. We have been busy hosting drives at the UL Lafayette’s Constitution Day and at area high schools. On Sept. 27, the League will hold a registration drive at JW Faulk Elementary’s parent-teacher conference day. The League believes that facilitating a path to the voting booth is facilitating a path to a better, stronger democracy.

But the path doesn’t stop at registration. In 2012, only 61 percent of eligible voters cast a vote in our last presidential election. Participation drops significantly in non-presidential election years and for local elections. The League of Women Voters of Louisiana conducted a statewide survey in May of 2016 designed to analyze factors that influence citizen participation on voting day. The League asked questions about voting sites, election-day registration, use of technology and access to information about the election itself. Access to information emerged as the most significant factor influencing eligible voters. Sixty-five percent of the respondents indicated they would be more likely to vote if they had more information. Providing all voters with comprehensive information about candidates and issues appears critical to working toward a more robust democracy. Outreach must start with registration.

The national conversation on patriotism is often focused on how we express ourselves; such as when we stand and sing the National Anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance. Voting is a quiet but profound patriotic act that is essential to maintaining both the national and local democratic institutions and ideals about which we sing. Fundamental to making democracy work is ensuring voter participation. As a nation, we have work to do. Join with the League of Women Voters on the 27th to celebrate National Voter Registration Day and help someone register to vote.

Kathleen Schott Espinoza, League of Women Voters of Lafayette


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