With the 2020 presidential election in the United States just around the corner, it’s important to get the facts straight about voting — the basis of a fair and just democracy.
Although most myths about voting in the US may not be spread with deceitful intent, their impact can still be harmful, as they can lead to lower voter turnout and a less engaged citizenry.
Given the power and responsibility that comes with your right to vote, it’s never a bad idea to do your research and become more aware of what this democratic process entails, and how you can fully participate.
To get you started on becoming a more informed voter, here are five debunked myths about voting in the US.
Myth 1: "My Vote Doesn’t Matter"
Although it may feel like your single vote makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, it really does matter. There have been more than a dozen races over the last two decades determined by a single vote or ending in a tie, according to NPR.
In 2017, for example, a Virginia House of Delegates race ended in a tie out of more than 23,000 votes cast. The deadlock was broken by pure chance — the pulling of a name out of a bowl — and resulted in a win for Republican David Yancey. This win also gave Republicans control of the state House by a single seat.
So, quite literally, a single vote can make a big difference.
Myth 2: "Everyone Has an Equal Opportunity to Vote"
The US Constitution makes it illegal for states to deny the right to vote based on race and gender, but this doesn't mean all citizens are guaranteed the right to vote or even have an equal opportunity to do so. Many states continue to have voting restrictions, such as voter ID laws, registration restrictions, and voter purges, that disproportionately affect marginalized groups.
In Georgia, more than 200 polling stations were closed ahead of the 2018 election, primarily in counties with higher poverty rates and significant Black populations. In Arizona, more than 500 voters, most of whom were Navajo, were inaccurately placed on a suspension list in 2013 because the state requires a fixed address, which doesn’t always exist on reservations.
Myth 3: "Once I Register to Vote, I’m Set for All Future Elections"
Even after you've registered to vote, under certain circumstances you can be erased from the system — sometimes unknowingly. So it's especially important to check your registration status ahead of time to avoid any unpleasant surprises on Election Day.
Depending on the state, if you are convicted of a felony without parole or ruled mentally incapacitated by a court, you may no longer be able to vote. Additionally, you will likely have to re-register to vote when you move, change your name, switch political parties, or fail to vote in previous elections. There have also been multiple instances in which states have inaccurately removed or suspended voters from their active voter lists.
You can check your voter registration status here.
Myth 4: "Voter Fraud Is a Big Problem in the US"
Americans are more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to impersonate another voter at the polls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This is also the case for mail ballots, which are expected to be used extensively during the 2020 presidential election to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, Oregon was one of five states that had already been using mail balloting as their primary method of voting. The state has encountered essentially negligible fraud, documenting about a dozen cases of proven fraud out of more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000.
Overall, out of 250 million votes cast in the US over the past 20 years, there were fewer than 150 cases of documented alleged voter fraud tied to voting by mail.
Myth 5: "Presidential Elections Are the Only Ones That Really Matter"
While the drama and high stakes of presidential elections make them monumental events reverberating throughout the course of US history, state and local elections can have a more direct and immediate impact on Americans' lives. Yet voter turnout rates halve from presidential to midterm elections, and halve again from midterm to municipal elections.
These elections deal with important issues such as a city’s budget, school boards, and the criminal justice system. State legislators have also historically been more productive than Congress at passing bills, which means that your vote at these lower levels could lead to more direct results and policies that benefit your community.
Global Citizen and HeadCount have teamed up to launch Just Vote, a campaign mobilizing young Americans to register to vote ahead of the 2020 election and beyond. As part of the campaign, your favorite artists and entertainers are offering exclusive experiences, performances, and memorabilia — and they can only be unlocked once eligible voters check their voter registration status. Learn more about Just Vote and how you can take action here.