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On who votes and who doesn’t …

Educated people are much more likely to vote …

So are rich people …

And, in Hawaii, whites are more likely to vote than other groups …

Note that blacks and Hispanics are not included in this chart because the Census Bureau, which conducted national surveys to get this data, did not sample a statistically significant number of black or Hispanic people in Hawaii. 

So what does all this mean? 

For one: It means a non-representative group — richer, more educated and whiter than the population at large — is choosing our nation’s elected officials.

It also means poorer, less-educated people, as well as those from racial minorities, tend to be more marginalized from the democratic process in the United States than other groups.

But what can be done about that?

I’ve been reading the book “Mobilizing Inclusion,” which looks at ways to encourage statistically underrepresented populations to vote. The authors argue that some groups of people don’t feel included in the voting process, that it’s not part of their identity.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Here’s their take on the history:

Historically, voter identity in the United States has been racialized, classed, and gendered in a uniquely American way. Thus, the American status quo — with the socioeconomically privileged being much more likely to vote — is not automatic; rather, it is a historical artifact, a product of how race, gender and class have been constructed vis-a-vis electoral politics in the American context … The fact that in India those of lower socioeconomic status are most likely to vote reminds us that ‘voter’ is a social and political construct.

The book highlights the work of a group in California, the California Votes Initiative, or CVI, that is trying to get poorer people and those from racial minorities to vote in larger numbers. Volunteers from CVI go door to door talking with unlikely voters about the voting process and why it’s important. They encourage participation.

Because the CVI organizations targeted members of marginal communities in their mobilization efforts, they engaged in a process of rewriting American history. Their efforts suggested the development of a new identification of these voters — as voters — that ran counter to this historical experience.

The emphasis on that quote is mine. Despite the fact that the language is probably too academic for its own good, the point is a really powerful one — and it’s one that I hope to explore on the upcoming trip to Hawaii: If you ask someone to vote, it could change part of their identity. It could make them feel more included in the democratic process, and in society at large. Elections aren’t justabout the will of the people being heard. They’re also about individual agency — and feeling part of something bigger.

This is important all across the country, of course. I’m looking at the issue in Hawaii in particular as a way to highlight some of these larger issues.

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