Move it Across the Pond: The London Bridge and Voter Turnout

Move it Across the Pond: The London Bridge and Voter Turnout

by Justin McMahan ‘21

In 1967 the City of London decided to sell the London Bridge as the structure couldn’t support the increasing traffic in and around the city. Robert P. McCulloch was an enterprising businessman who was looking for a statement piece to entice residents to populate the city he was envisioning. So, for around $2.4 million, McCulloch bought the London Bridge and on October 10, 1971, after reconstruction, it was rededicated where it currently stands, three hours from Phoenix in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Although the United States prides itself on its independence from Britain, we have partnered with and borrowed from our neighbors across the pond throughout history, from soccer to the London Bridge to The Office.

Looking at this upcoming midterm election I believe once again that the United Kingdom can offer us something new to take: stronger voter turnout. In the 2017 Parliamentary elections, voter turnout in the U.K. was 68.8%, which continued a trend of increasing turnout since 2001. What’s even more impressive is the stark increase in estimated voter turnout among those between the ages of 18-24, which for the first time since 1992 surpassed 60%. These promising patterns of voter turnout bode well for the future of government across the pond; after all, a democratic government only works best when civic engagement is strong and consistent.

In stark contrast to the United Kingdom, a Pew Research study found that in our 2016 presidential election roughly 55.7% of the American voting-age population cast a ballot. For reference, in this same study the United Kingdom clocked in with 63.7% of their voting-age population voting in their 2017 elections. In regard to voter turnout among young Americans, a Brookings Institute report estimated only 50% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 turned out to the polls in 2016. This number has only increased from 41% in 2001. Interestingly, youth voter turnout in the United Kingdom during the same time frame has increased from 40% to over 60%, as mentioned earlier.

Now one might look at these numbers and ask why am I not comparing our voter turnout rate to countries like Belgium, where over 87% of the the voting-age population voted. The main reason is that Belgium has compulsory-voting laws, which have been shown to increase voter turnout. An example of this pattern in reverse is Chile, which after losing its mandatory voting laws in 2012, saw voter turnout plummet from 87% to 42%. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, offers us not only a more realistic comparison, due to its lack of mandatory voting laws, but also gives us a realistic goal to reach. Although as a country we should always strive to be our best, it is not at all reasonable to expect voter turnout to increase by 30% this November, especially during a midterm election. Instead I am simply asking for a realistic 10% increase among the total voting population, a mere 25 million more voters. After all, we took and defended our freedom from the British, and we even took their London Bridge, so what, I ask, is stopping us from going to the polls this November 8th and taking their voter turnout rates too?