06 November 2007

You Want Young People to Vote?

One of the complaints that is repeated over and over again following every election is that the public doesn't vote. The biggest complaints are usually directed at college aged students who fail to cast a vote in any election, be it a general election or a presidential election.

In the 2004 presidential election, only 47% of 18-24 year olds voted, according to the U.S. Census. That means that more than half of Americans who are college aged didn't vote. Even though less than half of the people belonging to that age group voted, it was the largest turn out for youth voters since the election in 1972.

Different polling groups have tried to discern the reason for voter apathy in that age group, and there have been a number of movements geared toward young people to get them to vote: Campaign for Young Voters (seemingly now defunct), Rock the Vote, and Citizen Change--most recognizable for their "Vote or Die!" campaign (Please note that the Citizen Change website hasn't been updated since the 2004 election, it seems. This speaks volumes about the all too typical sporadic attention spans that youth voters are characterized as having).

They are all focused on bringing awareness to young people of their civic duties, and the importance of their attention and involvement in politics. The campaigns may have had some effect. The turnout in the 2004 election was up 11 points for that age group from the previous presidential election in 2000.


The problem is, no one is asking the right questions. Go walk into any college campus classroom and ask the students where they go to vote. Many of them (especially freshmen, most of which haven't ever voted before, and some aren't even registered) have absolutely no clue. If students are from out of state and haven't switched their residencies, then they can't vote locally and are required to submit an absentee ballot. In theory, I can understand this. In reality, I'm not surprised that more than half of the young adults of that age group don't vote. It's too complicated. If you want (and I do mean really want) young people of that age group to vote be logical about it!

There are already groups and associations that are able to take this issue head on to change it for the better. For example:

Campus Compact "is a national coalition of more than 900 college and university presidents committed to the civic purposes of higher education. To support this civic mission, Campus Compact promotes community service that develops students' citizenship skills and values, encourages partnerships between campuses and communities, and assists faculty who seek to integrate public and community engagement into their teaching and research." (Project Vote Smart)

What is more important to promoting community and citizenship skills than educating students on the electoral process and teaching them how to vote?

When accepted to a university or college, students get a litany of paperwork to fill out. Put a voting registration application and a change of residence form in that packet of paperwork, and submit it for the students. Better yet, set up polling locations on college campuses. There would still be a percentage of students who didn't vote, but the turnout would be remarkably different.

That's too logical, though. Makes too much sense. Of course, there will be complaints about how much it would cost to do that. Honestly, students are gouged with tuition, and tacking on another 5, 10, or 100 dollars to their tuition to cover the cost wouldn't make all that much of a difference. They'd have their youth voter turn out, alright.

Part of the problem is that college students exist with the fishbowl mentality. They are paying attention to what goes on in their classes (we hope), their required reading, campus politics, and campus issues. If a student is from Texas and attending college in Ohio, the likelihood that they have any clue what is going on locally is slim. That they usually have cable in their dorms and get their news from national news sources rather than local news presents another problem for election years that don't include a presidential race. While the acquisition of news from the Internet news sites rather than traditional news sources continues to rise, local politics will continue to fall further down the list of important issues to watch.

If we want more youth voters to turn up at the polls, then something more than offering t-shirts and periodic celebrity reminders needs to be offered for them to care and want to get involved in the democratic process.

~Dawn Papuga

1 Comment:

Justin Kownacki said...

Also, keep in mind that the average college student doesn't believe politics applies to his / her life directly.

They don't make enough money to care about taxes, or where they're spent.

They don't understand the complexities of local, state or national politics because they've never before been in a position to care, so they're (often) underinformed.

Those who DO care usually care A LOT, but the vast majority are too busy studying / partying to be bothered to take a long view approach toward politics -- which is a POV that will extend throughout their lives.

You want the youth to vote? Someone needs to explain to them, in technicolor, exactly how the choices politicians make in their name will directly impact their lives today.