Video

What You Need to Know About Voter Registration and Turnout This Midterm Season

Roll Call Decoder with David Hawkings — Wonky explainers from a Capitol Hill expert

Who votes, and who doesn’t, will effectively decide control of the next Congress — and turnout has recently been weak in midterm elections. In part that’s because millions who could vote never get registered. But for 2018 there is still time to register nationwide.

Registration deadlines are about a month before the election in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The final day to register is precisely 25 days out in New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma. The cutoff is closer to three weeks in advance in Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s two weeks or so ahead of time in Alabama, California, Nebraska and South Dakota, and about one week out in Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Only in these places can a person both register and vote on Election Day: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

Below is a transcript of the video.

David Hawkings:

The results of the coming election will shape how everyone in the country is going to get governed for the next two years.

But only a relatively small percentage of the American people will make this big and consequential decision for everybody else.

Who votes in the midterm election, and who doesn’t, will go a long way to deciding control of the next Congress. And the turnout will also say a lot about the public’s attitude toward the current state of civic upheaval.

Robust voter turnout is a bedrock fundamental to a healthy democracy. And yet voter turnout in the United States is routinely lower than most established democracies.

Low turnout generally reflects political disengagement — the belief that voting for one party or the other, or one candidate or the opponent, will not matter in terms of improvements to their lives or changes in government policy.

One reflection of this is that turnout is always higher in presidential elections than in the so-called midterms, like what’s coming in 2018, when every House seat and a third of the Senate seats are going to be up for grabs.

Elections where the whole country is asked to choose the most powerful person on the planet will naturally get more attention than elections for an institution — Congress — with record low approval ratings thanks to its long run of partisan gridlock.

And, sure enough, the turnout in the last midterm, just four years ago, was only 36 percent – down 5 percentage points just since 2010 and the lowest in any federal election year since the middle of World War II.

In other words, just three out of every eight people who were eligible to vote did so — 83 million of us.

But here’s something almost as astonishing: Only five out of every eight people who are eligible to vote — American citizens older than 18 who are not felons — actually registered to vote. The rest effectively gave up their most important power as citizens.

There’s still plenty of time for those numbers to change before Election Day — Tuesday, November 6.

It may be already too late to register to vote in congressional primaries that are happening in some states this spring and summer. But for the general election, registration is still open in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.

A quick web search will take you to the rules in the state where you live. [For example:] How do I register to vote in D.C?

But here’s a heads up: These 21 states require you to register about a month before the election. [Text on screen: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.]

These three have a deadline 25 days out. [Text on screen: New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma.]

For these eight, you have to register at least three weeks early. [Text on screen: Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia.]

These four, two weeks in advance. [Text on screen: Alabama, California, Nebraska and South Dakota.]

These three: one week. [Text on screen: Utah, Vermont and Washington.]

And only in DC and these 11 states can you both register and cast your ballot on Election Day. [Text on screen: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.]

So maybe it’s no surprise that the two states with the highest turnout in the last midterm were on that same-day registration list — Maine at 59 percent and Wisconsin at 57 percent.

And those with the lowest — Texas and Indiana at 29 percent each — have deadlines one month away.

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote starting in 1920, and now women routinely turn out in greater numbers than men.

But since the 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the franchise starting in 1971, turnout by younger people has always lagged those in middle age and the elderly.

About 30 percent of Americans are younger than 30, but in the last midterm they cast just 13 percent of the ballots.

Whites and African-Americans tend to turn out more than Latinos.

They’re the fastest growing political demographic — the number of eligible voters has doubled in just two decades, to 25 million Latinos — and yet they have stayed stuck at casting 7 or 8 percent of all the votes.

One out of every 10 voters who skipped the last midterm said they missed the registration deadlines. Two in 10 said they either didn’t like the candidate choices or care enough about the issues.

Fully two-thirds said they were too preoccupied with family or school or work.

The election is still on a Tuesday, of course, but there’s still plenty of time to get involved.

And turnout will probably go up from 2014, because there are way more competitive congressional races and voters seem eager to signal their view of Donald Trump two years in.