TUCSON, Ariz.—The great myth of America’s participatory democracy is that people actually participate. In the 2016 election—the controversial, generation-defining 2016 election—61 percent of voting-age citizens cast a ballot, according to census data. And that was a presidential year. The last time America held midterm elections, 42 percent of voting-age citizens participated. This has been the trend for midterms for at least the past four decades: Turnout hovers at or below half of voting-age citizens.

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