For all our differences, Americans historically rally together in unity when something they care about deeply is threatened. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 serves as a good example. National pride soared as Americans fought back. The war effort, as it was called, demanded sacrifice, around-the-clock hard work, and loyalty to a common cause. Everyone pitched in.
Curiously, this fervor has not carried over into the act of voting for our president. Throughout our history, as many of us have shunned the ballot box as have used it. Presidential elections traditionally have attracted about half of Americans eligible to vote in them. Not a record to be proud of.
In 1840, voting turnout soared to 80 percent of eligible voters to help Democrat Martin Van Buren defeat William Henry Harrison, a member of the Whig party. Previous elections had been running about 57 percent of those eligible actually voting. America’s highest percentage turnout in a presidential election came in 1860 when 81.2 percent of those eligible to vote elected Abraham Lincoln, Republican, president, defeating Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat.
Voting turnouts declined after that, to 65.2 percent in 1904 (Theodore Roosevelt, Republican, beating Alton B. Parker, Democrat), falling as low as 48.9 percent in 1924 (Calvin Coolidge, Republican, defeating John W. Davis, Democrat). Since then, voting turnouts in our presidential elections have averaged in the 50-to-60 percent range of those eligible to vote. This is shameful.
This year is different. Very. As of this morning, more than 73 million of us have endured long lines and waits of several hours, sometimes in the dark and in miserable weather, to cast our votes early, and that number continues to grow. Seventy-three million is about nine times the entire population of New York City. Huge numbers of us have turned to mail-in ballots.
What has stirred us to take such action?
This time, Americans feel threatened, and we are responding in force. We feel the very foundations of our democracy slipping away. We want to fight back, to reject incompetence and corruption in our leaders, the decline of civility and of our national status among other nations, and we desperately want to right a long list of grievances. Americans are motivated. We might differ on some things, but don’t mess with our country. We aren’t called the United States for nothing.
When this election ends, let’s check those voter participation percentages again.