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Judith Gelman

Turnout is measured as the number of voters over the population 18 and above--felons (2-5% of the population)n aren't subtracted nor are non-citizens. The number of eligible voters isn't growing at nearly the rate of general population growth. Turnout of actual eligible voters is probably much higher than in the 60's because the percent of the population that is ineligible is growing.

Jeff Weintraub

I understand that, Judy. In fact, the figures I'm using -- from Prof. Michael McDonald of George Mason University -- are based on the total number of ELIGIBLE voters. As he writes: "The voting-eligible population is a phrase I coined to describe the population that is eligible to vote. Counted among the voting-age population are persons who are ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens, felons (depending on state law), and mentally incapacitated persons. Not counted are persons in the military or civilians living overseas."

And as you point out, McDonald says: "Declining turnout rates, post-1971, are entirely explained by the increase in the ineligible population. In 1972, the non-citizen population of the United States was less than 2 percent of VAP and in 2004 it was nearly 8.5 percent of VAP. The percent of non-felons among the VAP have increased from .5 to about 1 percent of the VAP since the mid-1980s."

So VEP should take into account a rise in ineligible voters.

I realize that, even then, there will be some statistical reasons why the turnout numbers might move more slowly than we'd like. But however we look at it, we have to ask: is 61 percent turnout (again, of eligible voters) the best we can do? To use a labor economics analogy, is that comparable to "full employment," a benchmark level about which, as I seem to understand, many experts disagree?

Are we comfortable saying that as many as 31 percent of those who have the opportunity to vote are not taking advantage of this very simple, yet essential ingredient of what it means to be an American and to live in a democratic society?

Even if, for statistical reasons, we shave five or 10 points off of that figure of 31 percent, I still say no.

Jeff Weintraub

Sorry, sloppy math: I meant 39 percent in my comment above, when I said 31 percent. It just makes my point more, I think.

Judith Gelman

When done correctly (excluding non-citizens and non-eligible felons), turn out this year was above 80%.


I don't know,all the numbers are too deep for me to absorb. All I know is the enthusiasim and excitment was so much more than in all the years I've been voting. This year, the choice was very clear and gives the voter confidence that his(or her) vote would really count.I'm curious to know the statistics in the era of FDR. ( which, by the way, was three terms) Although much too young to vote, we kids were very aware of the contest and would playfully argue who was the better person. Remember there was no TV then.

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