US election tactics: Getting voters out, or to stay home

While the Clinton campaign focuses on getting voters out, a Trump official talks of “voter suppression operations”.

A voter casts her ballot during early voting at the Beatties Ford Library in Charlotte, North Carolina
At least 20 million people have already cast their ballots in early voting [Chris Keane/Reuters]

It’s the latest twist in this campaign – the FBI’s discovery of more emails that Hillary Clinton may never have sent but which have given Donald Trump renewed faith in what he calls the “rigged” system.

A twist that raises new fears in the Clinton campaign that some of her potential voters may now decide just to skip election day.

At least 20 million people, though – an estimated 10 percent of the electorate – have already cast their ballots in early voting and Clinton’s camp is encouraged by strong turnout rates among her key demographic groups in Florida and Nevada.

Clinton has been credited with building a much stronger machine than Trump assigned to GOTV – Get Out The Vote.

As for Trump, who’s still trailing in most polls, a senior campaign official says the plan is to implement “voter suppression operations” aimed at discouraging Clinton’s base: idealistic white liberals, young women and African Americans.

For what America’s boasting leaders call the oldest democracy in the world, the concept of minimising the electorate may seem strange.

But the US has never taken the necessary steps to assure the highest possible turnout.

In participation as a percentage of its voting-age population, the US ranks 31st among the 35 OECD members – most of them highly developed, democratic countries. In the 2012 presidential election, only 57.5 percent of eligible citizens voted.

In its most recent national election, more than 90 percent of Australia’s eligible voters turned out, as did those in Belgium’s last vote.

Of course, voting is compulsory in those and a few other countries.

That has never been seriously considered in the US, where voting is thought of as an individual option rather than a civic duty.

In 2008 Barack Obama was first elected thanks to the highest turnout rate in 40 years – 63.5 percent. Young African American voted in high enough numbers to exceed the white turnout rate for the first time; black women topped every other racial, ethnic and gender group.

But that fell far short of the record modern highs – at 80 percent – near the turn of the 20th century, prior to women’s suffrage and decades before the voting age was lowered to 18.

Since then, a generational shift has altered the political preferences of America’s age groups, forcing both Democrats and Republicans to recalculate their turnout formulas.

Democrats who had counted on a double-digit advantage with senior voters when Bill Clinton rode to victory in 1992 have seen Republicans become the slightly more popular party among voters aged 65 and older.

And while Trump is depending on a big showing of seniors, his campaign is hoping that millennials, who favour Clinton by 2 to 1, will sit out the election.

Diverging voting laws

In that respect, the jumble of voting laws across the 50 states may well give Trump an edge.

While North Dakota – reliably Republican – has no advance registration requirement, swing state North Carolina passed its registration deadline two weeks ago.

And while most of the states that are safely in Clinton’s column don’t require identification at the ballot box, others where Trump is struggling, such as North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia and Florida, demand a photo ID.

Republicans in control of those states’ legislatures who say their motive is to prevent voter fraud have also acknowledged that the effect is to hold down turnout by blacks and Hispanics who lean Democratic.

READ MORE: North Carolina voters flood polls after voting battle

In three states ballot boxes have been abolished altogether – Oregon, Washington and Colorado have converted to exclusively vote-by-mail.

Whether that change actually promotes participation is still under study.

The US does, however, have a nationally designated presidential voting day – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. A regular working day.

It may have been chosen for convenience back in 1845 – when it didn’t conflict with the Biblical Sabbath or with market days for the (male) farmers who made up most of America’s eligible voters.

But a century and a half later, perhaps the time has come for to give Americans some easier ways – if not a better reason – to vote.

Source: Al Jazeera