The Nuclear Voting Hypothesis

Sharlene Green

11.09.2018

2018 midterm election (47% turnout) was marked as the highest midterm election turnout since 1966 (49% turnout) (NPR, 2018). Slightly less than half of a nation voting doesn’t sound impressive unless compared with average midterm turnout which usually tinkers around 35% to 40%. In 2016 the Pew Research Center reported America ranks 31/35 of developed countries to vote. Americans are not shy when expressing their quality of life dissatisfaction, so what drives people to participate and what doesn’t?

Bethany Brookshire, author of Scientists Have Insight into Why Millions of people Who are Eligible to Vote, Won’t writes for a Behavior Psychology magazine of which she outlines and explains 4 central reasons:

1.Registration takes work

2.Education – college graduates more likely to vote

3.Two parties may not be enough

4. Apathy and burnout

Pretty self-explanatory right?

I think there’s a deeper analysis into the social culture of not voting, particularly around marginalized communities who see themselves as generally excluded from American interest. For those communities voting thus becomes a perceived act of betrayal to communal interest.

I know, mouthful. Let’s apply this principle specifically to Black non-voters.

In 2014 the Washington Post covered a piece declaring that nearly 4 million Blacks are excluded from voting due to incarceration and post-release voting limitations. Those facts prompted questions?

1.    How does political disenfranchisement of the head of the Black household affect surrounding nuclear family members, extended kin and larger resembling community?

2.    Are significant others of banned voters also not voting in allegiance to the trauma of denied rights? How does a family excitedly sit at the dinner table debating partisan policies while the family patriarch/matriarch is denied political participation?

Navigating the dichotomy between the privileged active and the suppressed inactive via the Prison Industrial Complex via discriminate sentencing laws via an overall racist societal lens takes a lot of articulate language, emotional stamina and revisiting of trauma. Political conversations in Black households are probably a burden that Black families voluntarily choose not to bear. Let’s call this the Nuclear Voting Hypothesis.

There is a trend of Black voter shaming. Days prior and following the election, I listened to Black youth criticize fellow Black youth for voting:

More explicitly, a short video circulated on Instagram titled, When people ask me did I vote? The video next fades to an unexpected profile of a Black male youth, firing an automatic weapon while chanting, “I got felonies, I got, I got, felonies.” The video racked thousands of likes and laugh emojis. Comic relief for a very serious issue.

Days prior to the 2018 midterms NYS Governor Cuomo restored voting rights to 35,000 NYS parolees. Commenting for the New York Times, Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the NYU Brennan Center for Justice states: “If we want to give people the opportunity to successfully live in our communities, we have to give them the opportunity to vote and be stakeholders,” Following the governors restoration order, Black men previously denied the right to vote, participated for the first time urging their wives and children to additionally vote. The Nuclear Voting Hypothesis is a worthy thought.

Bethany Brookshire, author of Scientists Have Insight into Why Millions of people Who are Eligible to Vote, Won’t lists college education as her 2nd reason noting that those with degrees are more likely to vote. Staff writer Reid Wilson for the Hill.com reports that 33% of Americans have their Bachelor’s degree but how exactly does having a degree correlate with voter participation? While marginalized communities are shamed from voting, perhaps inclusive communities (college educated) are shamed into voting?

In a contrasting voice, Antonia Noori Farzan also for the Washington Post, writes ‘Vote shaming’ messages are everywhere, and people are getting annoyed. Farzan reports on the sentiments of people bombarded with threats to vote or face embarrassment. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, voters received a state voter report indicating whether voters participated in the last three elections and informing that their neighbors would also be aware of their voting records. Similarly, Farzan reports how the NC Republican Party reminded voters that their voting history is a public record available for family and friends to see.

Farzan’s article closed by defining, the act of asking people to vote as an act of shaming people to vote. To example what Farzan defines as voter shame, Farzan presented an example of a Wendy’s fast food worker asking a customer if she had voted and a celebrity comedian asking his bellhop if he had voted. Farzan added that most minimum wage workers are disincentivized from voting due to criminal convictions, long lines and the inability to miss work. As a result of voter disincentivizing, Farzan argues that the thus added pressure to vote is stigmatizing.

To write that people should be sensitive of the social privilege of voting and therefore not discuss voting with those that lack voter privilege is problematic. To avoid hurting the feelings of those unable to vote is the conscious act of not inciting the politically oppressed to a state of political activism.

Restraining oneself from proposing political activity, denies one an opportunity to increase political efficacy. Moreover, to deem voter encouragement as political shaming further marginalizes potential voters and silences the issues of those most oppressed. Political columnist Ana Marie Cox agrees, in a lengthy twitter thread reflecting on civil rights activists who died for voter rights she states, “I think shaming people into voting is perfectly acceptable, people died fighting for this.”

To vote or not to vote.

The underlying hope or apathy intertwined with voting or not voting is most important. Some consciously choose not to vote but recognize the power of community organizing.  But the end goal of community organizing is community centered issue advocacy. Issue advocacy eventually requires the sponsorship of elected official to change proposed policy into law.

Voting is an extension of hope – not to vote is expressed defeat.

Works Cited

Brookshire, Bethany. “4 Reasons Why Many People Don’t Vote.” Science News for Students, 26 Oct. 2018, www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/4-reasons-why-many-people-dont-vote.

Cottrell, David, et al. “Nearly 4 Million Black Voters Are Missing. This Is Why.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Apr. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/04/11/nearly-4-million-black-voters-are-missing-through-early-death-or-over-incarceration-that-distorts-u-s-politics/?utm_term=.b4b20306a704.

Domonoske, Camila. “A Boatload Of Ballots: Midterm Voter Turnout Hit 50-Year High.” NPR, NPR, 8 Nov. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/11/08/665197690/a-boatload-of-ballots-midterm-voter-turnout-hit-50-year-high.

Farzan, Antonia Noori. “’Vote Shaming’ Messages Are Everywhere, and People Are Getting Annoyed.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 Nov. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/11/06/vote-shaming-messages-are-everywhere-people-are-getting-annoyed/?utm_term=.826c9c22f2b1.

RobertsPosted, Nigel. “Black America ‘Did The Thing’ With High Voter Turnout On Election Day.” News One, News One, 9 Nov. 2018, newsone.com/3835862/miderm-elections-black-voter-turnout/.

Wang, Vivian. “Cuomo Plans to Restore Voting Rights to Paroled Felons.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/nyregion/felons-pardon-voting-rights-cuomo.html.

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Wilson, Reid. “Census: More Americans Have College Degrees than Ever Before.” TheHill, The Hill, 3 Apr. 2017, thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/326995-census-more-americans-have-college-degrees-than-ever-before.