POLITICS

Obama Calls Out America's Dismal Voter Turnout: 'Why Are You Staying Home?'

02/25/2015 09:17 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2015

President Barack Obama urged Americans frustrated with the lack of progress on immigration reform to voice their discontent at the ballot box, lamenting the dismal turnout in last November's midterm elections.

Speaking Wednesday during a town hall in Miami, Florida, hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo's José Díaz-Balart, Obama said the immigration system won't truly change until voters elect lawmakers who will press for reform.

"Ultimately, we have to change the law," Obama said. "And the way that happens is, by the way, by voting"

He continued, "In the last election, a little over one-third of eligible voters voted. One-third! Two-thirds of the people who have the right to vote -- because of the struggles of previous generation, had the right to vote -- stayed home. I'm willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk of the existing immigration system who still didn't vote."

Voter turnout hit a 72-year low in 2014, with just 36.4 percent of eligible voters heading to the polls for the midterm elections -- the lowest in any election cycle since World War II. While turnout is historically better in presidential years, 2014 participation was down 40.9 percent from the last midterm cycle in 2010.

It was also a landmark year for Republican victories: In addition to winning the Senate and increasing its majority in the House, the GOP also made major gains in state legislatures across the country.

"Why are you staying at home?" Obama said. "Why are you not participating? There are war-torn countries, people full of poverty, who still voted 60, 70 percent. If here in the United States of America, we voted at 60 percent, 70 percent, it would transform our politics. Our Congress would be completely different. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform."

Obama said while he bears responsibility for setting and advancing a policy agenda, voters also have a responsibility to advocate for what they believe is important.

"Staying home is not an option," Obama said. "And being cynical is not an option. And just waiting for somebody else -- whether it's the president, or Congress, or somebody -- José -- to get it done, that's not enough."

Read more on Obama's town hall here.

Watch the video above.

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