Why don’t more unmarried women vote?

An article in both Women’s eNews and AlterNet discusses the reasons why many women don’t vote. In actuality, more women vote than men. And that’s great news! The problem is that significantly lower numbers of unmarried women vote, compared to married women.

Unmarried women are the fastest growing major demographic group and represent the largest potential group of new voters, according to “The State of Unmarried America,” an annual report released on June 29 by Washington-based Women’s Voices Women Vote.
But many of their votes aren’t there to be counted. Of the 49.5 million single, separated, divorced or widowed women in the United States, 18 million are unregistered and 5 million are registered but don’t vote.
“What would make them most likely to participate is if they have more information from sources that they trust: nonbiased, nonpartisan information,” said Joe Goode, executive director of Women’s Voices Women Vote. “They don’t have the same social network or are not as politically engaged as married couples. The second major thing holding them back is cynicism towards politicians and politics.”
Goode says the women sitting out elections are hindered in general by a high degree of instability; 40 percent of young women move every three to four years and need to re-register.
Other women may be hindered more by everyday difficulties.
“Women are voting and women are voting in high numbers every year,” said Kassidy Johnson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., which has a variety of programs to increase female voting. “I really believe the things that hold us back are normal, everyday things. You forget, you can’t find a babysitter or you don’t want to stand in line all day.”

Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote has a fact sheet (PDF) that more clearly shows the disparity. And while I don’t consider unmarried women a demographic that we can expect to vote a certain way, I do think that it’s important to make sure that they have a say in our political process.
The disparity in numbers raises several questions. Why do more married women vote? Is it because married women are more likely to have children, and therefore feel stronger ties to their community? Is it because more men are interested in politics and encourage their wives to vote? If this is the case, are husbands unfairly influencing the votes of their wives? Are there completely different factors? And what is the effect on our voting process going to be, now that numbers of unmarried women are increasing? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they’re food for thought.
Aside from the economic and practical issues discussed in the article, I also wonder if there are more social reasons behind this trend. I’d like to supply a personal anecdote.

I have voted ever since I was legally able, which was 2002. During both the 2002 and 2004 elections, I had to vote by absentee ballot. The 2006 election was my first opportunity to vote in person. I was excited. I thought that there was something special about physically casting my vote on the day and the energy of watching democracy take place. The reality was both unpleasant and intimidating.
When I went into the building, I had to find out where to report. The polling station was broken up into several smaller groups, based on address. Everyone else seemed to know where to go. There weren’t any volunteers at the door providing directions. Eventually, I manged to find my street on a map, and waited in the line for ten minutes. Then, when I got to the front, I found out that this group didn’t include my side of the street. I asked where I was supposed to go, and was told in an annoyed voice that I had to look at all of the maps at all of the tables. I was back to square one. I wandered around to several several tables and had no luck before someone finally had the kindness to help me. I was supposed to be across the building from the first table I had reported to. After checking in, I told the representatives that I had never voted in person before, and wasn’t entirely sure how to work the switches inside of the booth. They looked at me like I was vaguely stupid before explaining.
The entire experience was frustrating, intimidating and demoralizing. I would like to think that it was an isolated incident, but I’m really not so sure. It was bad enough that I’m seriously considering volunteering to work at the polling station during the next election, in an attempt to help create a better atmosphere. After that experience, I can see why many other young women– or really, anyone not entirely familiar with the voting process– would be put off by the prospect. And I can certainly see why all of those voters who are registered but don’t vote would be hesitant to put themselves through the experience more than once.
So, what do you think? What are your experiences? How do you think that the voting process keeps younger and unmarried women out, and what can we do to correct it?

Join the Conversation