It seems hard to believe, but as few as 40 per cent of eligible Americans usually decide the midterm elections.
That’s the average turnout — though this year is predicted to smash records.
Even if that comes true, it’s still only likely to reach 50 per cent. That means just half of the population will decide what’s being called the most meaningful midterm election in decades.
Democracy is a principle the US has fought wars over, but at home it’s not just apathy but its own systems that stand in the way of voters.
Even with the threat of a fine in Australia, it still requires delicious barbequed meat (AKA: a democracy sausage) on a Saturday to lure us out to vote.
In the US, elections are held on a Tuesday. And with voting voluntary for both sides, actually mobilising supporters to show up — not just winning them over — is the biggest battle.
Trudging through the rain today, you could see why people with families or juggling employment — often less secure than in Australia — could find it hard to get to a booth.
The day was picked in the 19th century, and at the time, it suited a mostly rural society. Is it time to move on?
“We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilised society, to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in words displayed prominently on his memorial in Washington DC.
It gets worse — the dark arts
It’s alleged there’s plenty of other more nefarious factors at play too.
During the fight to end segregation and the Jim Crow laws, black voters were intimidated and threatened to stop them from registering to vote.
This time in Georgia the pressure is not so overt. But there are claims this shameful history of black voter suppression is still flourishing.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp (already infamous for this ad in which he points a gun at a teenager who wants to date one of his daughters) is being sued for the issue.
The Associated Press revealed that 53,000 predominantly black voters have had their voter registration put on hold.
Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams, is pushing to become the first African American woman elected Governor.
Kemp alleges the voters have just been sloppy in their registration, but many saw an echo of the state’s traumatic racist past.
Just days before the poll, a judge ruled in favour of the civil rights groups, calling the restrictions a “severe burden”.
It’s not just the south
In North Dakota too there are accusations new voter ID laws will prevent Native Americans voting.
Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp faces a tough re-election fight in a traditional red state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.
Some tribal reservations don’t have street names and personal identification has previously listed a post office box.
A new law passed by state republicans means that’s no longer good enough and identification will have to include a street name.
Local republicans say it’s about voter fraud, and courts all the way up to the Supreme Court backed their argument, dismissing a legal challenge to the laws.
It’s meant an estimated 5,000 tribal citizens rushed to ensure they have the correct identification and update licenses.
The law’s proponents say its about the sanctity of the ballot box, but civil rights group see more Machiavellian motives.
And of course there’s the good ol’ gerrymander.
That’s where whichever side of politics controls the state legislature redraws electoral boundaries to suit their side rather than to reflect shifting demographics.
As Simon Jackman detailed for this website, the lack of an equivalent to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) means it’s a constant of US politics.
Be thankful for your democracy sausage
So whether it’s the mid-week voting, the weather or political tricks and dark arts, there’s a reason why only 4 or 5 out of 10 eligible Americans will decide the election.
Australia, be thankful for your Saturday democracy sausage — you might not always like the result, but at least nearly everyone has a say.