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"Personally, I believe that our American system works as long as you participate in it. You must vote and make your voice heard. Otherwise you will be left out."
-Mari-Luci Jaramillo, Educator, Diplomat

We are the sleeping giant, 30 million strong. We are the young voters of America, aged 18-24. We make up 10% of the US population (source: US Census Bureau). Yet despite making up over 13% of the eligible voting population in this country, voters aged 18-24 cast less than 9% of all ballots in 2004 (source: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement).

Why is that? It’s no secret that college-age students have a reputation for apathy and ignorance when it comes to American politics. The excuses offered up are innumerable. “I’m too busy to vote.” “Politicians don’t care about me.” “These issues don’t affect me.” “Sure, I’ll vote… when I’m 30.” We’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another. We’re all busy, yes, and these excuses are easy, yes, and maybe you missed that day in 8th grade government class when your teacher lectured at you about “your civic duty as an American” and “how lucky you are to live in this country” and blah, blah, blah…

"The Greek word for idiot, literally translated, means one who does not participate in politics. That sums up my conviction on the subject."
-Gladys Pyle, former US Senator

Well, if you can still offer up these excuses with bravado and still brandish that apathy like a badge after all that’s happened in the last six years, then you’re not paying attention. Anybody who can claim that political issues don’t affect them is either ignorant, or just plain stupid. Since Bush’s first election in 2000, the White House and the Republicans have…

-Restricted a woman’s right to choose: On Bush’s first day in office, he reinstituted the global gag rule as part of the Republicans' war on family planning. Since then, he has signed an unconstitutional bill restricting abortion as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy and women everywhere are still waiting for the FDA to make the Plan B morning-after pill available over-the-counter.
-Started a pointless war that detracts from the real war on terror: It is now abundantly clear that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and that the Bush administration stretched the intelligence to reach an already forgone decision to go to war. Since then, there have been 2,412 confirmed deaths of US soldiers in Iraq. Yet despite their senseless deaths, Osama bin Laden is still at large and we are no safer than we were 5 years ago.
-Divided this country, instead of uniting it: Issues and allegations regarding race have plagued this country ever since Bush took office almost six years ago. Given the opportunity to re-shape the US Supreme Court, Bush nominated two judges with extremely questionable records regarding civil rights. (The nominations of both Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts were staunchly opposed by the NAACP.) A president who nominates for consideration a Supreme Court justice who has disagreed in writing with the concept of “one man, one vote” and who botches the handling of a natural disaster so badly that many African-American leaders accused him of outright racism hasn’t brought this country together, he’s alienated it even further.

These issues not relevant enough for you? Let’s talk about the costs of higher education. By the time you graduate from Georgetown, chances are you’ll have spent around a whopping $180,000 on your four-year degree. And if you’re anything like the typical college student, a large chunk of that will eventually have to be repaid in the form of student loans. Under President Bush, the average national cost of tuition has gone up about 40%, even taking inflation into account (source: the College Board). Yet he has done little to allay the costs of higher education in this country. In fact, Bush and the Republican Congress have succeeded only in making it more difficult for the average American teenager to go to college.

In 2000, Bush campaigned on a promise to make college more affordable and accessible for the average American. He vowed to increase the maximum Pell Grant for college freshmen to $5,100. Yet in his latest budget proposal, President Bush only increases funding for Pell Grants by $100, to $4,150, nearly $1000 short of his promise. The latest budget also completely eliminates the Perkins Loan program. If Bush’s proposal is enacted, more than 670,000 students borrowers would no longer be able to take advantage of loan forgiveness if they serve in the military, or become teachers or law enforcement officers. Outside of the fact that the Perkins Loans encourage students to fill desperate shortages in essential career fields, this proposal just plain bites if you’re a college student. Still think that what the President and Congress do in Washington doesn’t affect you?

College students can and will change the direction of our country come November 2006. The young people of America have done it before (see: Vietnam, War in), and we will do it again. So get informed on the issues. If you’re not already, get registered to vote. Make sure you’re up to date on all the deadlines in your home state for registering as an absentee voter. Make sure your roommate, your siblings, even all your Facebook friends are registered to vote, too. (For more information on registering to vote and on obtaining an absentee ballot, contact your local Board of Elections, or check out Rock the Vote’s homepage.)

"Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."
-Charles de Gaulle, former President of France

Come November 2006, we will awaken the giant. Because if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

6 comments:

OrSkolnik said...

Rachel's totally right. Voting is not just your civic duty; it's your power as an American and one of the best ways for you to change the world. But she missed a few excuses:

"But I'm smashed!"
"Wait, it's election day today?"
"How should I know it's election day? I'm smashed!"

All fair excuses, but voting works just fine hung over as long as you decide on your candidate (the one with the D next to their name) the night before.

NOTE: Drunk voting not recommended for those living in Palm Beach Country, FL.

Liz Fossett said...

You know my excuse? [Note: I have always voted since I've been legal]

I'm from Kentucky. Not one person that I voted for won. Why should I waste my time? You know in Kentucky in 2004, Daniel Mongiardo received 49% of votes for a Senate seat. That's 49% of a state's population that is not being represented by Jim Bunning or our other wonderful Republican Mitch McConnell.

Or, you just finished your CPS final. Let's talk about the MMP system (oh, Germany, you have finally found a winner...). People will show up if their voices are being heard. Since the implementation of MMP in 1996, 81% of New Zealanders vote!

OrSkolnik said...

I'm the first person to say our system actively discourages voter turnout. MMP would be great (though we'd have to restructure the Senate because the magic threshold is M = 7!), PR would be great, even a proportional allocation of EVs would be great. Unfortunately (and fortunately, in other ways), our system is over 200 years old, and there just isn't the political will to mess with such a fundamental American institution.

Being from AZ, I can appreciate as much as anyone how it sucks to live in a noncompetitive district in a noncompetetive state (though we're changing that...). I actually wrote a paper for USPS about abolishing the electoral college, and my main argument was that for 2/3rds of Americans in any given presidential election, their vote doesn't count. I stand by that argument, but at the same time, we just won't change the electoral college any time soon. We won't change the Senate or Congressional structure any time soon, either.

But let's look at what happened in Kentucky. Mongiardo lost by less than 23,000 votes. Counting ONLY undergraduates in 4-year public colleges (a fraction of the real total), Kentucky has 93,224 students (yeah, I compiled from Wikipedia). I don't have turnout of party ID figures, but let's grossly oversimplify it and suppose half were Democrats or Mongiardo-leaning independents, with half of those voting. That leaves--you guessed it-- just over 23,000 students who would have voted for Mingiardo, but just didn't show up.

So maybe 49% of Kentucky is unrepresented. That sucks, and it's a problem with the system. But if those 23,000 students had showed up to vote, we would have one more Democratic senator today, and you would all be well-represented. Well, not the Republicans, but that'd be their problem.

Voting DOES matter, even if the system isn't ideal. It takes up half an hour of time once every two years (slightly more if you live in states such as Virginia or New Jersey!). And if we really want to fix the system, voting is the only way that'll ever get done.

Rach C said...

Okay, well, I'm just going to respond to Liz even though Or did all the math and pretty much made the argument for me. The problem here is while I sympathize with Liz's argument about our winner-take-all system, that still doesn't explain why college age students disproportionately decline to vote. What you're saying, Liz, is a reason that overall voter turnout is low, not the reason young voting is low. So it's kind of irrelevant, not to mention we'd pretty much have to scrap the entire US constitution to go with your system.

Liz Fossett said...

Or, you're hitting on a fundamental problem of Americans. We cling to tradition even when we realize the problem with the tradition. We're constantly renovating everything except politics. Let's grow up; the founders knew we would change with time and that is why we are allowed to ammend the constitution.

Rachel, this has everything to do with young people. Young people will never leave their video games or minimum wage jobs to go vote (or apply for an absentee ballot) until they think their contribution matters. Not only is it easy to see how they don't matter in instances of underrepresentation, but it is also difficult to get diverse, young people elected to any type of office in a winner take all system.

Those elected on list seats are often new blood in an old system; they are younger and more diverse and therefore representative of a large group of people who feel very left out our country. When people don't just believe that the old guy will keep winning, they will go out and vote for the new person.

Rach C said...

I disagree with you, Liz, on several counts.
First of all, I take issue with your view of "tradition." You describe our cling to the US Constitution as a "problem." If our system is so problematic, then why are we the wealthiest nation in the world, with the most powerful military? If the Constitution is so flawed, then why has it enabled us to become the world's only superpower? Our system has worked for 217 years. I say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
-Secondly, party list systems have their own issues. If you think the US government is crippled by partisan fighting, you should see what it would look like with forty different parties in Congress, instead of just two. Look at Israel: in its sixty year history, never once has a government actually lasted the full term without a vote of "no confidence" and new elections being called. Plus, since a party system will inherently lead to the existence of more than just two major parties, it lends itself too easily to pandering to the extremes of both sides, since often the 2 members of the far-right or far-left party are the necessary components to a coalition, which leads to moderate parties being forced to concede ground to extremists. Furthermore, the adoption of party list systems would make elections very expensive, and if we as a party are going to be concerned with the influence of money on democracy, we have to be aware that any form of proportional representation runs the risk of making elections even more expensive. (There is also significant evidence that list-elected representatives are significantly more likely to pander to special interests than their more directly-elected counterparts. The same article also notes that "British constituency representatives spent 21.1% of their work time helping voters, while list-elected representatives spent a mere 13.7% of their work time on constituency service.") Also, there are fundamental problems with a MMP system that would be introduced, like the tactical issues surrounding decoy lists that can actually succeed in making elections less democratic than they were before (see: 2001 Italian elections).
-A third but key problem with MMP systems: there is substantial evidence that voters do not understand it. In a survey in Scotland, for example, a majority of voters surveyed did not understand crucial aspects of the MMP system. If those poor old Jews down in Palm Beach couldn't figure out how to vote for Al Gore with a butterfly ballot, how do you think they'll deal with what MMP proposes?
Exactly.