Although Wisconsin has the second highest voter turnout rate in the country during presidential elections, Dane County’s lower participation rates have prompted the League of Women Voters to work to increase citizens’ involvement.
Wisconsin had a 70 percent voter turnout rate in 2012, but Dane County saw a “drop-off” last spring with a 24 percent voter turnout, Kathy Fullin, Dane County League of Women’s Voters co-president, said.
“Part of what the league does is try to increase participation in democracy,” Fullin said. “We try to encourage people to vote by giving them information about what’s on the ballot.”
She said the League is looking to discuss new strategies on increasing voter turnout including hosting a forum Wednesday night with political scientist Richard Matland, whose research focuses on the effectiveness of various distribution methods of voting information.
The League sends its network base postcards with voting information in addition to its publication titled “Candidates’ Answers.”
“We don’t know what motivates people to vote,” Fullin said. “But we are interested to know.”
The League is also concerned with the implementation of forms of social pressure to increase voter turnout, Fullin said.
Connie Flanagan, a University of Wisconsin professor and an expert on voting and civil engagement, said the most effective method of getting people to vote is peer pressure.
Fullin said the League is looking at recent social pressure research, such as sharing neighborhood voting patterns, which allows residents to know who else in the neighborhood voted. Studies show this method of indirect social pressure increases voter turnout, she said.
However, she said the idea of using this type social pressure to influence citizens is an “uncomfortable issue” for the league because of its “invasive nature.” However, the organization has not taken an official position on this method, Fullin added.
Even if the league chooses against the use of social pressure, Flanagan said citizens should understand the importance of voting, adding oftentimes issues are decided on by only 30 percent of the people these issues affect.
“[It is] incumbent on all of us to make it clear how important it is to democracy to let your voice be heard,” Flanagan said. “It’s not just about self-interest but the future of society.”
Flanagan said other methods for getting people to the polls exist, such as making voting easier for residents by implementing same-day registration and greater accessibility to polling places.