In what some experts are calling the most important presidential election in modern history, Americans can still find reasons not to vote.
It could be they are confused about the process, uncaring or just plain lazy.
In 2004, 47 percent more of the 18-to-24 crowd voted than in 2000. Yet the age group still saw the smallest portion of itself cast a ballot, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, which studies the political and civic involvement of those age 15 to 25.
And in 2006, 12 percent of non-voters said they didn’t register because they had no confidence in the government, reported The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
The following three Hoosiers are all eligible to vote. They’re at least 18. They’re not incarcerated, and are all U.S. citizens who have been at their current residences for at least 30 days.
But that doesn’t mean they plan to vote.
Don Lytle remembers exactly when he got out of prison: the third week in September 1968. He has been drug-free since 1979 and alcohol-free since 1980, but it was when he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in July 1958 that he realized how important his vote was.
Before then, the now 70-year-old never voted. After he almost lost the right to vote – dishonorable discharges can come with some revoking of privileges, Lytle says – he registered to vote.
“The thought of not being able to vote, that I could have lost that right, freedom and privilege, it convinced me that I need to vote,” says Lytle, from Fort Wayne.
He realizes how uncommon it is for felons to vote, and he cites two reasons that keep them away from the polls. He knows that some states – such as Kentucky and Virginia – take away felons’ right to vote, according to Stateline.org, a group that reports on trends in state policy and politics.
Indiana and Ohio are two of 13 states that allow convicts released from prison to vote, even if they are on probation or parole. But because the laws change as one moves from state to state, it can be confusing for those who have been convicted of a felony to know if they have a right to vote, according to Stateline.org.
Felony disenfranchisement laws keep an estimated 5.3 million Americans from voting, the Web site says. More than 2 million of those prevented from voting are no longer behind bars.
The rest don’t vote simply because they have no respect for the system, Lytle says.
“They see such a double standard. They kind of look at it like, what good’s their vote going to do? It ain’t right, but that’s how it is,” Lytle says. “A lot of them, once they get straightened out and change past attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles, a lot of them will start to vote.”
Currently, Lytle is involved with a ministry at Fellowship Missionary Church in Fort Wayne that works with felons. He is a retired drug and alcohol counselor, and he keeps up his certification because of his work with the ministry.
Lytle hasn’t spoken to the convicts he works with about getting registered to vote, but he says he will now – the major point of the ministry is to make the felons more responsible. This is a sick world, Lytle says, and the goal is to teach those in the ministry to no longer contribute to the sickness of it.
God has taught him that he is responsible for himself to be a good citizen of the United States, Lytle says. Part of that is to vote.
As of mid-October, Adam Miller didn’t know whether he was going to cast his ballot for the president. It’s not that he doesn’t want to – it’s that he’s a new student at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and he’s still registered back at home, in Elkhart.
“I thought about it,” he says of registering in Allen County – he moved in late August. “I kind of got caught up in school and everything.”
Growing up, politics wasn’t always on the forefront of conversation. Miller lived with his grandparents, who are liberal, and his mom was always conservative; they tended to talk about politics only when he initiated the conversation, Miller says.
Of his friends, he’s definitely the “political” one – he actually voted four years ago. Meanwhile, none of his buddies from back home are even registered.
“Right now, they kind of float along through time,” Miller says. “They really don’t care what happens.”
Historically, it’s the newest voters who are the least reliable to show up to the polls come Election Day. Levi Johnston, 18, and soon-to-be son-in-law to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, didn’t even register to vote.
Those in the 18-to-24 crowd are in a transitional stage in their lives: Some, like Miller, are in college, which presents its own obstacle to voting because they may have to go through the process for an absentee ballot or go home, says Dwight Brautigam, a Huntington University professor of history who teaches a course on the American presidency. Registering in a new state or with a new address may not be particularly appealing because often these students aren’t rooted in their communities or they are new to the area or still living at home.
“A lot of them just feel like the things they’re interested in are not of interest to political candidates,” Brautigam says. “Even if they are beginning to pay taxes, they don’t think of themselves as ‘taxpayers.’ ”
Often, these young adults don’t yet have much at stake, he says; their income isn’t typically high, so they’re not as worried about where that money is going.
Plus, voting is a habit. People get used to saying, “OK, this is the first Tuesday in November. I have to remember to vote.” Many in that age group have never voted before, Brautigam says, so it’s not formed into habit yet.
Even though Miller was unsure whether he’d make it back home to vote, he did think his vote mattered.
“I guess I feel like my vote counts toward something,” he says, “even though a lot of people think it doesn’t. A lot of voters will sway anything.”
The disgusted one
Most voters who claim they don’t vote out of apathy, or are accused of not voting because of apathy, aren’t really apathetic, says Terry Herrell, who can’t even remember the last time he voted.
For Herrell, it’s disgust that keeps him out of the voting booth.
“This is my view of politics: If you’re being politically correct, are you being honest and truthful?” asks Herrell of Bluffton. “Listen to McCain and Obama, (and you) hear nothing but rhetoric, false promises. (They) can’t and don’t back it up. It goes against the tenets of what you teach your kids, which is honesty and integrity.”
Parents also teach their kids to not call one another names or tear people down, something done too often come election season.
The traditional “if you don’t vote, you lose your voice” line doesn’t work for Herrell. If anything, he thinks he’ll lose his voice if he doesvote. A large percentage of the population stays home on Election Day, he says – in 2004, 36 percent of Americans didn’t vote, and Bush and democratic contender John Kerry took 51 percent and 48 percent of the vote, respectively. By sticking together in their unvote, their voice stays loud, Herrell says.
To get Herrell to the polls, it would take a candidate that looks nothing like a candidate has looked … well, ever. The country needs someone in office who is not political, he says. He’d vote for a candidate who was a leader, he says, which is much rarer than the manager presidents who seem to permeate the White House. When a candidate is a leader, with some honesty and humility thrown in there, that candidate doesn’t get the votes. If the politicians in office were leaders, Herrell thinks the economy wouldn’t be in as bad of a state as it is currently in, he says. For him to cast a vote, Herrell says, he’d need to see “a return to honor, goodness, sensibility.”
This is not to imply that he hasn’t followed the election – he has. But the 42-year-old is in the process of finishing a bachelor’s degree abandoned when he was 22 because of a cancer scare. After five classes, he’ll have his degree.
“I want to go out and impact this globe in any way shape or form I can,” Herrell says.
Just not through voting.