Election day in the U.S. is almost over, but how many Americans actually exercised their right to vote in this historic 2008 Presidential election, only time will tell. Based on past record though, the U.S. has one of the lowest percentages of voter turnout. Average election turnout since 1960 is only 54% in the U.S - that's just over 1 in every two people that are eligible to vote. In 2004, 60.1% of eligible voters in the U.S. cast their vote.
A natural question to ask is why that's the case? Stanford University's Center for Deliberative Democracy provides some perspective. One factor could be that Election Day in the U.S. is on a weekday, making it difficult for people to get away from work to vote. To make voting easier, some states allow citizens to cast "early votes." Another factor could be that people need to register ahead of time to be able to vote, leaving no option for last minute procrastinators. Yet another factor might be the political institutions themselves. The Electoral College system means that only so-called "swing states" are in play in presidential elections, leaving little incentive for voters who know they will win/lose in their state.
Some countries have found more direct ways to ensure high voter turnout, such as making voting "compulsory." Examples include Australia and Belgium, with an average of over 90% turnout. 32 countries currently have some kind of compulsory voting law! Wikipedia has a list of the top 37 countries based on percentage of voter turnout in lower house elections. Australia leads the list, followed by Malta, Austria, Belgium, Italy, and Luxembourg - each with 90% or higher turnout. In general, voter turnout tends to be lower in the U.S., Asia and Latin America than most of Europe, Canada and Oceania.
So, pretty soon the world will find out not just who the next President of the United States will be, but also how important really was this historic election to the American people!