The people's vote is the foundation of a democracy. In a representational democracy, like that in America, citizens vote on representatives who will then make laws and vote in ways that best support the interests of those citizens. Given the importance that voting plays in the lives of average Americans, you might think that a large majority of eligible voters hit the polls each year. The truth is somewhat disappointing.

Presidential Elections

Every four years, Americans head to the polls for the presidential election. At the same time, they are also able to vote for other representatives whose terms are coming up, such as U.S. senators and representatives, and state and local representatives. According to The American Presidency Project, only about half of the voting-age population has voted in these elections, with rates ranging from 49.08 percent in the 1996 election to 57.48 percent in the 2008 election.

Mid-Term and Off-Term Elections

Fewer people vote in non-presidential election years. According to FairVote.org, the voter turnout in mid-term elections -- two years after a presidential election, when some U.S. senators and representatives are up for re-election or election -- is less than 50 percent, ranging from a high of 48.7 in 1966 and low of 39 percent in 1978, 1986 and 1998. In between that, when voters vote for local government representatives, such as governors or school board members, turnout rates can be less than 10 percent.