AUGUST 12, 1958
NEW YORK—It has always seemed strange to me that as a people we do not use our right to vote in the great numbers that one would expect. There are countries in the world where people who have the right to vote but fail to do so are penalized. In the Soviet Union, for example, the people have a choice only in a kind of primary before the final slate is made up. Nevertheless, if they do not cast their ballot even here, I believe they are fined.
In our country, it seems to me, the minimum that a citizen owes to his government is to express himself by secret ballot at the polls. It is true that in some states the only important vote is the primary, when you choose between different members of the same party. In these states, where our two-party system usually does not function, it is important that everyone vote in the primaries. Elsewhere throughout the country, citizens should vote both in the primaries and in the final election, for where the two-party system works they will always have a choice between party candidates.
Since this is a capitalist country, perhaps Senator Neuberger was wise in suggesting that we should give a tax credit of $10 for political contributions to our parties. We are accustomed to thinking in terms of profit, and perhaps we need an incentive. If anything will make the majority of our people vote, I am for it.
The American Heritage Foundation discovered in a survey that there are two groups whose voting records are especially bad in this country. One is the group of young people from 21 to 29 years of age, within which there are some 20 million voters. In the 1948 campaign, only 45.9 per cent of this group went to the polls. In 1954, according to the University of Michigan and Gallup polls, only 44 per cent took advantage of their franchise. This year, from September 1 to 7, we will have a "First Voters' Week," and that is the time when everyone should urge young people to register, inform themselves on issues and candidates, and then vote in the elections.
The other group with a poor voting record includes the women of our country. Yet there is a very good reason why women should feel responsible for the type of people elected to office. Since 1940, women have outnumbered men in the voting age groups; in 1956, they outnumbered men by 4,600,000. In some areas the women's vote could change campaign results. But strange to say, the women's record is proportionately much worse in voting than the men's. In 1952, only 59 per cent of the women voted, or 30.5 million out of more than 51 million who were eligible. By contrast, 65 per cent of the men voted, or 31.1 million out of 49,278,000 who were eligible.
Our low voting rate discredits democracy and the type of representative republic we have chosen as our form of government. It discredits us, also, because we have offered this form of government to the world as the one which is best able to put into the hands of the people the most comprehensive control of their own affairs.
I hope the young people and the women of our country will vote this year and vote as responsible, well-informed citizens.