- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

More voters cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election than in 1996, but despite the 2.2 percent increase, analysts call the turnout "dismal."

A total of 105,399,313 citizens 51.2 percent of the electorate voted in 2000, up from 96,277,872 or 49 percent in 1996, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate reported yesterday. The findings are based on final and official voting and registration statistics.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit committee's report states that the increase in turnout came as a result of heightened grass-roots mobilization in 16 battleground states, meaning states where the contest was considered closest and in which both parties concentrated their organizational efforts and spending. Each of those states showed an increased turnout. The overall gain was 3.4 percent.

But Curtis Gans, the committee's director, said, "Nothing in this turnout picture indicates that we have turned the corner on declining voter turnout. We are still at levels 25 percent below what turnout was in the 1960s, and each succeeding generation of young potential citizens is voting at an ever lower rate."

It is Mr. Gans, a recognized authority on voting patterns, who characterizes the continuing low levels of voter turnout as "dismal." Yet Stephen Hess, the Brookings Institution's prominent elections specialist, said:

"I agree. I'm not a purist who believes voting is the end all and be all, but I think that voting is the simplest and easiest act of citizenship. It requires the least of citizens, and reflects the glue that holds the body politic together. The low turnout indicates to me a lack of widespread involvement in the public well being. And that, in itself, is troubling."

The committee reports that although the turnout went up, voting registration went down. The study notes that, "An estimated 133,780,000 Americans registered in 2000, up numerically from the estimated 132,000,000 who registered in 1996, but down two percentage points (at 65 percent of eligibles) from the 67 percent who registered in 1996."

All told, the statistics released yesterday favor Republicans. According to the study, they "outorganized the Democrats."

In every state and the District, the Republican Party generated a higher turnout in 2000 than in 1996. The Democrats managed the feat in 29 states and the District, but lost turnout in 21 states.

What's more, Democratic registrations fell to an estimated 33.6 percent of the eligible electorate. That continues an "unbroken series of declines since the mid-1960s in both the Presidential and mid-term election years," the report states.

Republican registrations edged up a trifle to an estimated 25 percent of the electorate. The small gain also is part of a trend that has persisted for 40 years.

The big gainers in registrations were third parties and independents. More than 18 percent of the electorate made such choices. Outside the South, the figure was 20 percent.

"It is abundantly clear that both major parties are losing their hold on the American electorate. … There is an increasing perception among American citizens that there is no there there to either major political party," Mr. Gans said. He adds:

"While there is no apparent third party or independent threat on the present political horizon, it is an accident waiting to happen."

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