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EDITORIAL: How a healthy democracy works

York Dispatch

Americans turned out at the polls in depressingly small numbers last year.

In fact, just 37 percent of those registered to vote bothered to do so — a lack of engagement not seen since the early days of World War II.

Here in Pennsylvania, we managed to do even worse than average, with just 36.7 turnout.

The health of our democracy doesn't look good at all, not when so few participate and so many — 35 percent — don't even register to vote, much less turn out on Election Day.

Don't kid yourselves by thinking that's just the way representative governments work, that it's unheard of for all or almost all citizens to vote.

In fact, when the Pew Research Center earlier this year studied voter participation — the percentage of an eligible population that voted — in 34 developed democracies, it found all but three countries fared better than the United States.

Part of the reason is that almost all of the other countries were better at registering their eligible citizens to vote. Just 65 percent of Americans who can vote are registered to do so. Compare that to 96 percent in Sweden and 93 percent in the United Kingdom.

"Don't complain if you don't vote." We hear it over and over. And over and over people stay home in droves on Election Day.

This isn't how a healthy democracy works.

This is how representatives who are nowhere near representative of constituencies get elected.

It's how elected officials can so easily ignore you and put special interests above common good.

And it's why even the simplest government business has become so complicated — and the truly complicated problems have become impossible to solve.

We really don't care if nonvoters complain. We don't blame them. We'd just like them to complain all the way to the voter booth next election and actually help change things.

We hope that change began Tuesday with National Voter Registration Day, an outreach effort to engage more Americans in our democratic process.

The Pennsylvania Department of State used the occasion to highlight the commonwealth's new online voter registration option ( Online registration is long overdue, but it's still short of broader voting reform, which should include same-day registration, early voting, no-excuse-needed absentee voting and open primaries.

We believe changes like these will result in much greater voter participation, which is what we're going to need to make this "grand experiment" work.

Anyone who says otherwise ... they're just part of the problem.