Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., calling low voter turnout a political "crisis" that "undermines the foundations of democracy," announced a plan yesterday to persuade 100 million voters to go to the polls in next year's presidential election, a turnout that could significantly boost his party's chances.
Kirk and other party leaders officially opened the Democratic National Committee's Office of Voter Participation, which will work to register 10 million more voters in the coming year and organize voter-turnout programs for the 1988 election.
They noted that 50 percent of eligible voters don't turn out for presidential elections, 60 percent stay home for congressional elections and 70 percent to 90 percent don't vote in state and local elections.
And they cited a DNC voter-participation task force report that of 185 million eligible voters, 50 million are not registered and 30 million to 60 million of the registered voters don't vote in any given election.
"We believe that these low levels of participation seriously undermine the foundations of democracy, frequently make it difficult, if not impossible, for elected leaders to forge consensus on the great issues of the day . . . and too often deny Democratic candidates the voter plurality they need to win elections," they said.
The Democrats also had set a goal of 100 million turnout for the 1984 presidential election, in which about 92 million people voted. Political analysts say that, statistically, the Democrats' chances of winning the White House next year will be very good if turnout exceeds 100 million.
The task force report said that obstacles to registration, such as inconvenient registration centers and residence requirements, are a major reason why the United States is 20th among the industrial democracies in turnout.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), vice chair of the task force, said he will introduce legislation to encourage either Election Day registration or to allow voting with no registration, and said a major priority of the party is making registration easier.
Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin have registration on Election Day -- which resulted in an 8 percent increase in turnout, according to the task force report -- while North Dakota does not require registration. These states were among the highest in voter participation in 1984, with Minnesota tops in the nation with 69 percent.