JohnsonPrimary elections like the one Tuesday don’t often garner a large voter turnout.

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Katie Johnson: What does it take to get voters to polls?

Published 10:31pm Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The reasons are many: voters aren’t informed about who’s running or what is on the ballot; they think their vote doesn’t matter in the primary; they don’t want to register under a specific political party.

But what does it take to get some people to any election, let alone the primary?

I have talked to many non-voters about their reasoning. Many don’t understand the voting process or who is running in elections or why it matters. Some claim they don’t have time. Others believe all elections and/or politicians are corrupt.

Whatever the excuse, the poor turnout can ultimately be chalked up to lack of civic responsibility.

An estimated 54 percent of eligible voters in the United States cast their ballots during the last four decades of presidential elections. Compare this to other countries — Italy, 90 percent; Britain, 75 percent; Japan, 71 percent; France and Canada, 76 percent — and our turnout is downright shameful.

The 2008 general election set records at the voting booths. There was a fresh face up against a familiar one in the presidential election: Barack Obama versus John McCain. Race, age, political affiliation and a desire for change were definite factors in voter turnout.

Voters want someone they can relate to. A handshake and a smile may suffice for some — they are putting a face with the name on the ballot. Shaking hands and kissing babies really do have an impact in the minds of some voters, but surveys have shown that infrequent voters are not affected by face-to-face campaigning.

A voter’s upbringing is another factor. If they are taught at an early age that voting is important and discussed political issues as a family, they will be more likely to cast a ballot.

In the U.S., non-voters are more likely to be young, single, uneducated and of an ethnic minority than voters, but this is not always the case in other nations.

Some schools are making it more of a priority to educate students starting early about elections — for example, holding mock elections.

Home and school are both good places to start teaching our kids that voting really makes a difference in our country.

Katie Johnson is the managing editor of the Niles Daily Star, Off the Water, Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus. She can be reached at (269) 687-7713 or at katie.johnson@ leaderpub.com.

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