15,000 Miles in an R.V, All in the Name of Voter Turnout

By Arnoldy, Ben | The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

15,000 Miles in an R.V, All in the Name of Voter Turnout


Arnoldy, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor


Jay Sigal sold most of his possessions, bought an RV, and has just started a 15,000-mile mission to get more Americans to exercise their right to vote.

He left from his hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif., last month, and he'll keep on trucking east, then west, then east again across the country three times until he winds up in the nation's capital on Nov. 4, Election Day.

Armed with a video camera, he hopes to conduct 1,200 interviews on the Washington Boulevards and Lincoln Avenues across the US, asking folks why they vote or why they don't.

In some ways, Mr. Sigal's quest is quintessentially American: dropping it all to hit the road from sea to shining sea. And as an ideal, few would quibble with voting's virtues, even if many don't bother. But Sigal's timing stands out: Voting booths haven't been this busy this early for decades.

"While this year it may end up being higher than it has been, overall voter turnout is still significantly lower than it needs to be," says Sigal. He points to an election in November in Santa Barbara when only 32 percent of registered voters turned out - an "appalling" figure that means more than two-thirds didn't bother.

"Voter awareness and voter participation is something that needs to be increased, and I've decided that I'm one person in this country that's going to go make an effort to see if that can actually happen," he says.

The former contractor and photographer hopes he can take this project and develop an organization that he could direct for the next 15 to 20 years.

First, he's on a nonpartisan mission to learn why more people don't vote, and what can be done to raise the percentages. He plans to post video he gathers on YouTube and write about his journey at electtovote.net.

For those who study turnout, this year's presidential primaries and caucuses have been ones for the record books. "If we look at the big historical picture, these could be turnout levels that we haven't seen for a century," says Michael McDonald, an expert in voter turnout at George Mason University in Virginia.

The reasons: Campaigns have fine-tuned tactics for bringing out supporters, and the races have captured voter imagination. "If you hold an interesting election, people will vote," says Dr. McDonald. …

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