ESTES PARK, CO
High school student
Essay themes: Mail-in voting, voter apathy
JANE M LEE
The United States is at peace; the economy is humming. Crime is down and most Americans are lulled into complacency. We are living in an era of apathy. Why is political participation by young people on the decline? Why don't they care about the political process?
There is an overload theory, that so much scandal has made them numb. There is the inertia theory, that people are reluctant to get involved because they know they would have to do something. There is the lowered bar theory, that young people expect so little from their elected officials that they're not surprised when they get it.
Why are we so cynical? And, more importantly, what can be done to motivate us out of this mellow apathy? It is a real potential threat to the country, and should be addressed. Changes in our electoral system that could bring the body politic out of it's coma are diverse. One political reform I would like to see considered is a return to the true and honest standards upon which our country was built. The rhetoric and political spin control young people are subjected to are not good and healthy for the people of any nation.
The objective is clear: there should be high standards that young people can look up to in those who lead the country. We should not be forced to vote and elect officials under false premises. People are being elected today on the basis of lies, and this could eventually rob us of our opportunity to be prosperous and free. What possible future could await a nation of such citizens?
Additionally, if constituent groups were not allowed unfettered access to our politicians through private lobbying, and all political donations, whether corporate or private, had to be acknowledged publicly, perhaps the light of truth would shine upon the process. What is the source of our strength? It is individual freedom that made this country great, and not our government. If election day were made a national holiday, more people would participate.
Further participation would occur if citizens could staple their ballot stubs to their tax return and receive a tax credit or refund for "participating in the electoral process". Citizens should be allowed to receive ballot requests by mail, if they are registered, and have the opportunity to vote by mail in all elections. Last minute rhetoric and commercials would have little affect on a voter who had already cast his ballot by mail. The initiative and referendum measures so common in the western states allow the political process to proceed at the wishes of the citizenry. Power is restored to the people and the wishes of the people put forth for vote. It should be made impossible for their votes to be "nullified" by our judicial branch.
Measures that are approved and immediately enjoined or nullified by a judge increase the cynicism of the voters. Voter registration could be joined with tax returns. Many people do not drive, but everyone submits tax returns. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the political process by young people has been the gutting of political science and civics programs in our schools. Young people graduate from high school without a clue as to how the greatest political experiment ever created in the world represents them. The Pledge of Allegiance has been all but obliterated in our classrooms, and the brief introduction to the political process they receive in history and government classes is a pitiful tribute to the nation with the greatest central government in the world.
The creation of the American Democracy was singularly the
greatest political act in the history of mankind, yet too many
young people are ignorant of the Ameican dream. To master the
many facets of our freedom: physiological, mental, moral, religious,
political and economic, young people must vote. They must be
taught the laws which shaped our land--the hard won laws which
secure our God-given rights so that they can live in dignity,
and in ways which secure their common benefit. I would like
to see curriculum that instills the idea of sacred honor in
the hearts and minds of American students. As we move into the
twenty-first century, there is no substitute for the Declaration
of Independence and our Constitution. Too many young people
have little knowledge of both, and their liberty is taken for
granted. Young people must be taught to care. Liberty, not government,
brings peace and prosperity--we cannot afford for the next generation's
freedoms to erode because of apathy.
Essay themes: Influence of money and the media in politics, history and issues surrounding registration, campaign reform
Celebrities for Better of For Worse
We must have answers to questions like this to ensure that we will remain a society who has chosen a government to represent us by our consent. To under stand this type of government we must first explore the true ideas and intentions of a democracy, and what the founders of our political system aimed for when they created it. What exactly is a democracy? Theodore J. Lowi and Benjamin Ginsberg co-authors of American Government, define democracy as "A system of rule that permits citizens to play a significant part in the government process, usually through the election of key pubic officials"(Theodore J. Lowi and Benjamin Ginsberg, 1998). Or in a general sense it means "rule by the people". In light of this, all citizens rich, poor, educated, not educated, and regardless of race shall have an equal opportunity to be involved in making decisions on issues that concern the welfare of their society. During the 19th century voter participation in some countries, including America, was as high as 105% by those who were eligible (T. Lowi, B. Ginsberg, 1998). T. Lowi and B. Ginsberg report that this was obviously due to wide spread corruption. Still it seems to be evident; that even though only the people defined as citizens at this particular time had the right to vote, the fundamental characteristics of democracy was present because there was 100% participation. The people knew how important it was to have a right to vote, and they used this right. Why is it that there was all this participation in politics in the 19th century? Were people more patriotic? Were they a lot smarter? The reason is that they were actively sought out by different political parties and organizations who asked for the their support personally. Before television, radio, and other technological advancements that are used in politics today, before "Hi-Tech Politics", political parties actually went door to door to petition support for their candidate and their cause. During this time, these political parties inspired enormous amount of voters to the polls. As T. Lowi and B. Ginsberg reports that this type of political power made it so that the people had enormous influence of government and policy in the United States. (T. Lowi, B. Ginsberg, 1998) Reasons that participation is not as wide spread as it was is because the government places regulations on voting. These regulations decide who can vote, where they can vote, and how a person can vote. Personal voter registration was enacted to curve corruption in the electoral process. What it meant to the working class people was that it would be a lot more difficult to participate in electoral process. They would have to personally register to vote, and people who lived in rural areas would have to take a day off work. Well, for most working class people this would not be possible because they could not afford to miss any work. Another setback for working class people was that, as T. Lowi and B. Ginsberg state it, "registration requires a greater degree of political involvement and interest that does the act of voting itself". (T. Lowi, B. Ginsberg, 1998) When the government set voting regulation laws, less middle, working, and lower class people were able to vote. From that point the majority of voters were upper-middle, upper, and upper-upper class populations. This created a "mini-democracy", in which the rich were voting for the rich to represent them and their interest. For instance powerful corporations give their delegate's (doesn't necessarily have to one) political party noticeable amounts of money. In return, this action would give the contributor of the funds direct access to the delegate so they may voice any concerns. While the rich and wealthy people supported their delegates during elections with substantial amounts of money to support their campaigns, less and less of the average American people were being represented. Interest groups, in a sense, are no different from corporations because a well-organized interest group can get the attention of a representative a lot faster than the average citizen can. Well-organized interest groups have the money and support from the people who make up its large membership. Interest groups such as the NRA have members spanning over the whole nation. The NRA plays a huge part in legislation on gun control, and they have the resources to get their point across in the political arena. With over 2.3 million members, who are predominately middle class Americans, the NRA is one of the biggest interest groups in the nation. For one year, one adult can be a member of the NRA at a cost of $35. Multiply $35 by 2.3 million people who pay that fee annually, and we can the idea of what kind of resources the NRA has. (NRA, 1999) With the government already run by interest groups and corporate endorsements, how will a celebrity who is rich, who has rich associates, who lives in a rich environment, and is almost totally separated from main stream America represent the "average Joe six-pack". There is a theory that a celebrity who has the money to support his/her own campaign will not have to bow down to interest groups and powerful corporations. Although a celebrity may not have to satisfy the interest of rich campaign finance donors, world they still come from an exclusive where there is no such thing as social issues. Former president Ronal Reagan, who was an actor that got involved with politics, is a prime example of what happens when a rich celebrity gets into office. With the acting skills Reagan acquired in Hollywood and the media, he was able to convince most Americans that he was the real thing. He would never be performing an act of generosity with out major media coverage. He played well on screen in Hollywood and he played the part in Washington as well. From the very start Reagan began his conservative approach to cut taxes, wipe out social programs, and increase military spending. These are strategies that directly benefited the rich and increased taxes for the middle class. As a result of this Reagan, and his bright ideas, increased the federal deficit more than any president in history did. David Boaz, author of "Assessing the Reagan Years", explains, "The continued high growth of the real federal spending was the major failure of the Reagan economic program. Moreover, the deficits that were caused primarily by the continued growth in real spending. There is plenty of blame to go around." Didn't they know when to stop spending? (Boaz, 1988)
Still more and more Hollywood actors and their peers think they have what it takes to be key political figures. What do we make of politicians like the comedian Sonny Bono? Is he actually doing a good job in office or is he just entertaining his way through real political work? In an article by Tom Lineberg, of the Wall Street Journal, he writes, "During his (S. Bono) brief time in Washington, he was best known not for any legislative or political achievement but for a hilarious bit of stand up comedy about congressional life he delivered at the annual Salute to Congress Dinner, a performance Washingtonians still describe as 20 of the funniest minutes in the history of Washington?"(Wall Street Journal, 1999)
As for the new governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, he seems to not know the boundaries of political morals. He is the first major politician to have an interview with the popular and controversial magazine-Playboy; in which Ventura stated "I want to be reincarnated as a 38DD bra." I wonder what feminist think about that? Ventura, who supports my theory-that the entertainment business of acting is one of the reasons they're elected in the first place-states " I credit my upset gubernatorial victory last fall to public speaking skills I learned as a wrestler and commentator." Furthermore in a recent online forum, Ventura responded to a bus driver who was worried about the job outlook in his line of work as follows: "What's the matter with you?" he said. "It is not my responsibility to find you a job. It is your responsibility to find a job. If it's a good one, let me know about it." I'm not averse to working an extra job."(Star Tribune, 1999)
Other celebrities who want to be in office for no other reason except more power are famous people like Donald Trump who thinks he can buy his way into office like he buys every thing else. Oprah Winfrey who thinks she just because she can run a talk show that she can manage the duties of the Chief Executive. Also, I've heard of a recent rumor that the actor/rapper Will Smith wants a shot at the presidency. I guess the work with those aliens really made him open-minded.
Although many of the celebrities who go politics are fame seekers seeking more power, some of the well-known stars do have some political sensibility. For instance, take Warren Beatty-a celebrity with fame, money, and power actually speaks on issues with substance and with eloquence. He has been involved with politics a lot more than most celebrities playing the role. According to a newspaper article, "He was an early supporter of Robert F. Kennedy, and he was also a confidant of former Senator Gary Hart, who has publicly encouraged a Beatty candidacy." He has been a player in democratic politics for more than 30 years.
Why is it that only ideas we hear about come from people who earn significantly large amounts of money-way above average amounts? In the United States just like any other good or service voicing your opinion so people can get it cost money. The Media in America is dominated by few cooperate giants who have all the power. These corporations sell their service-communication-to the highest bidder. When it comes to getting your ideas heard you have to have a lot of money. For instance, if Ross Perot and "Joe six-pack" had a conflict over some issue and wanted to pursue people to their idea, whom do you think your going to hear from most? Ross Perot has to money to buy airtime on any major television network. So, it really didn't matter if Ross was in favor of murder and "Joe six-pack" was against. Ross's idea would get more attention.
So, how do we make it fare so that every one has say and not just the people who can afford it? One theory if finance reform. The United States already has a law that gives public funds to candidates who receive no private money. Even if a candidate wants to be fair and not take interest group "soft money" then they are automatically at a disadvantage. If the other candidate receives private funding then that person is likely to raise a lot more funds. Then this person will be able to buy more advertising time.
We need ask for limits on private money that is given to politicians and their political parties. That way a candidate will most likely have to resort to public funds to finance campaigns. Also, if the news agencies are forced to give each candidate equals airtime then it will level the playing field even more. It would give "Joe six pack" a chance to at least have hi voice heard. Bill Moyers states, "It's estimated that such public financing for elections would only cost about $5 per average taxpayer to cover all congressional elections. That's a small price to pay for cleaning up our elections, when you consider how we are now literally paying for hundreds of billions of dollars in boondoggles, special tax breaks, target subsidies, an unnecessary spending the result from our privately financed campaign system. (B. Moyers, 1998)
Campaign reform in turn would guarantee that the American people would have the chance to be represented by representatives from all walks of life. So that if you live in a middle class neighborhood, you may have the chance to be represented by someone that lives in your area and relates to any problem you have. For instance, does a rich celebrity/ politician know what its like for a single mother of two. Fighting to go to school, work, be an over time parent. No, the rich person doesn't. But, with campaign reform single mother might have the chance to be represented by someone who does know what she goes through. Therefore this person would be much better represented.
"Maybe; I don't know; well, that depends; no; I don't know the issues." These are answers that increasing numbers of youth are giving when asked whether or not they will vote. Today's youth are becoming disillusioned with the government. They believe that one vote does not matter or they simply do not care. School Civics classes, programs like MTV's 'Rock the Vote,' and political fairs are all great ideas, but they are not making a large difference. Below average political participation by younger members of society is not an easily solved problem, but Internet voting, required informational fliers and web pages, and making election day a holiday are steps in the right direction. First, Internet voting would increase the number of youth voters. Kids are generally lazy, and if they could vote without leaving their homes, or even their beds, then many more would vote. Many people love the ease of clicking their mouse here and there and being done with the whole process, instead of waiting in line. People would also be able to research ideas to know more about the issues instead of using the "eeny-meeny-miney-moe" game when they came upon an unfamiliar topic. The biggest problem with this option would be the security of the information. The newest, most up-to-date anti-hacking system would be needed. Overall, though, the Internet would be a great incentive for getting "Generation X" to vote. Secondly, requiring each candidate to create a flier and web page explaining himself or herself in detail would let everyone know the candidates' stance on different subjects. If handed out at polling places, voters could see the information as they voted, and could make more educated votes. The web pages would be accessed from a link on the voting web site. This idea will also be carried over to referendums, bond issues and everything else the American public votes on. This option would exterminate the phrase, "I did no know the candidates' stances on abortion, so I didn't vote." This would also reduce the amount of political research, leaving more time for college students to 'hit the books' for their classes. With less work needed, more youth will turn up to vote. A third way to increase political participation is to designate election day as a holiday. One excuse that people like to use is that they were unable to make the time. If places of business and schools shut down, voters would have all day to make it to the polls. Many businesses and employers frown upon employees leaving work early, taking extended lunch breaks, or taking the day off to vote. With a national holiday, businesses would have to let their employees have the day off. Election Day would also boost the economy. Department stores, malls, toy stores and clothing stores would have yet another reason to have a huge, over-blown sale. The consumers could receive low-priced clothing, and the economy could get that much more money re-circulating. While they were at the mall, young voters could stop at a polling place set up outside and vote. This would heavily increase the turnout of voters 18 to 25 years old. Youth voting is a very important issue. Today's kids are tomorrow's adults. If they do not start to realize the importance of voting, they will not have any say in the way their lives are run. The country is run by the government, the government is run by the voters, therefore, vicariously, the country is run by the voters. If only a small percentage of the population is voting, a large portion of the country is letting their lives be run for them. The apathetic members of this large group do not care, but the rest of them should. For example, if all of the people who voted moved to Minnesota, then Minnesota would run the country. Minnesota's citizens do not know what it is like in Florida, yet they would be deciding Florida's fate. That does not make sense. Everyone in this country is different and should be casting his or her own opinion at the polls. This is what George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. Everyone has an equal voice, and, for their own sake, should use it to vote. That is why increasing the turnout of young voters is important to my peers and me. In conclusion, voting is essential to our country. With low voter turnout, especially amongst the 18 to 25 year old crowd, our society cannot function properly. The people who are young now are the future of our country, and we need to find ways of enticing them to vote. Internet voting, required informational pamphlets and web pages, and a new holiday called Election Day are all improvements. Obviously, no method is going to be perfect, or result in one hundred percent voter turnout for any age group, but anything that helps the problem is worth trying. The future of the United States of America depends on getting young people to vote, and these three techniques will help get young people to vote.
JANE M LEE
From a high of 80% in the 1896 election, voter turnout in the United States has dropped to a low of 49% in the 1996 election one hundred years later. Voter apathy is an obvious symptom of an uninterested electorate, and turnout is lowest among younger voters. After their predecessors won the right to vote during the Vietnam War era, today's young voters rarely exercise this right. Only 20% of citizens under age 25 vote. There is no good way to force political participation if there is no interest; radical proposals like mandatory voting would only cheapen the process without accomplishing anything. However, we can facilitate participation and encourage young adults to take an active interest in politics.
The simplest and most widespread form of political participation is voting in elections, which should be the focus of efforts to increase young adult participation. There are, of course, other forms of political participation, such as contacting a Congressperson or supporting a campaign, but voting is the most basic and most essential political activity. Simplifying the voting process from registration to ballot boxes is the first step to increasing turnout. Not only young people but all American voters must deal with an inconvenient registration and voting process. Measures such as the 1993 Motor Voter Act (allowing people to register when they apply for driver's licenses) and mail-in ballots have significantly eased the process, and such efforts should be continued and expanded.
Registration procedures should be standardized across the nation to simplify the process in every state, universally adopting some states' policies of allowing voters to register at supermarkets, on Election Day, or by mail. We should also make it easier to actually cast the ballots. Making election day a national holiday would help voters get to the polls without having to worry about school or work schedules. Technology should also help ease the voting process. Registration and, eventually, voting over the Internet or by email would allow people to easily navigate the electoral process from their own home. Although the technology may not be ready yet (ensuring privacy and security are challenges) it eventually will be, and increasing access to computers will one day make this a good option for busy voters. Incorporating these measures to simplify the electoral process will help coax reluctant voters to cast their ballots.
In comparison with most other industrial democracies, which have much higher voter turnout, the United States' inconvenient registration procedures stand out as a major difference contributing to low turnout. Faced with the responsibility of registering for themselves, many citizens do not want to deal with the hassle or may not even know how to begin. Therefore, another reform is to simply register all citizens instead of making individuals do it on their own. Expanding the idea behind the Motor Voter Act provides a way to accomplish this task; voters should be required to register when they get or renew a driver's license. Lowering the voting age to 16 (or the legal driving age if different) would make the process even simpler. As teenagers get their first driver's license, which no teenager will forget, they will automatically register to vote. This policy would remove the hassle of registration; combined with simpler voting procedures, it would make a big difference. These reforms would significantly improve the electoral process and facilitate voter participation.
The voting process is not the only obstacle to young adult participation; apathy plays a large role as well. In addition to addressing the formal electoral process, we must also improve the informal political socialization of young citizens to produce an informed, interested electorate. Public schools should require that all students take a basic government and civics class. Young people must be familiar with the American government and political process to be informed voters. They must also learn how politics affects them personally by studying current events and political issues. There is no draft controversy to rouse teenagers or political concerns, as there was in the '60s, but there are many other issues important to young adults. Most teenagers are already concerned about school-related issues (random drug testing, locker searches, censorship, school prayer) and should learn to voice their concerns through active political participation. School violence and the stringent safety measures that often follow (metal detectors, security cameras, and zero-tolerance policies) raise issues about students' safety as well as their rights.
Outside of school, almost all young adults have opinions about issues such as curfew laws, the smoking and drinking ages, and graduated drivers' license programs. If they realize their own interests are at stake, younger voters will take a more active interest in politics. The more they participate, the more political influence and efficacy they will gain. Targeting political messages to young voters would help; high school and college campuses are an excellent place to promote participation and distribute information about issues and campaigns. There is no reason why young people should be unusually disinterested in politics; if we can change their attitudes their participation will increase.
We should simplify the voting process and foster political
awareness among younger voters to increase their participation
in the political process. It is up to young adults to take advantage
of their opportunities for political participation, but they
should be actively encouraged because a more vocal citizenry,
starting with young voters, benefits democracy. Drastically
altering the American electoral process would be nearly impossible
with two centuries of established tradition, and minor changes
such as abolishing the Electoral College would likely have little
effect on participation. Moderate reforms, however, can help.
As a young adult who is excited about politics and eager to
vote, I am an exception; but I am typical in one respect, I
haven't registered yet because I'm not sure how to start the
process. Expediting the voting process and increasing political
awareness would help encourage other young adults to exercise
their voting rights. Perhaps today's youth can even become as
politically active as those who originally won suffrage for
18-year-olds in the 1960s.
It seems lately like everyone has been asking the question "why don't the young people vote". Throughout the nation, on college campuses everywhere, there are campaigns -- not normal, run-of-the-mill candidate campaigns, but campaigns to create initiative in the newest generation of voters to go to the polls. Creating this initiative sometimes needs incentives, such as "get a free piece of pizza for voting!", or "free T-shirt", or any number of bribes. The question shouldn't be "why don't the young people vote?", but instead "why do they find the government so uninteresting?". Here lies the key to the problem. Perhaps it's because we feel we don't really have a say in the government. While we hear the phrase "voting does matter!" all of the time, and have such statistics as past presidents who have won or lost the presidency on a single vote, that's not truly quite convincing. America is very wary of its teenagers, and has a tendency to hold us at arms' length. I'm what you might call a typical young person who is of an age to vote. When I first turned 18, I was so excited to be able to vote -- it's become almost a rite of passage to young people, like receiving a driver's license. But when I entered the polling booth, I realized that while my American Government teacher had briefly told us about the candidates and their platforms, I really had no idea who or what I was voting for. Now, this was partly my fault, because I simply hadn't taken the time to truly review all of the issues, but at the same time, there is nothing in voting that appeals, or applies, to a young person. The unfortunate truth is that we simply take advantage of our great democracy, believing that if we don't do our duty and vote, then someone else will and things will go on as they always have.
While I'm sure that this issue has been worn out, there is also the matter of what America truly views as "adults". While 18 is considered old enough to vote, drive, smoke, work, be declared financially independent, be tried as an adult in a court, and go to war, it is not old enough to drink. No, I am not coming at this from the viewpoint of a typical college binge drinker -- I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of a confused young person, trying to find his own identity as an adult. While I'm not saying that by lowering the drinking age, young people will suddenly start voting, I am saying that Americans need to decide what they consider to be adulthood. I believe that if most liberties are granted to an 18-year-old, then perhaps all liberties should be granted. Or, if a legal drinking age of 18 is too frightening, then perhaps all liberties and privileges of an adult should be withheld until 21. It feels almost as if we are trusted enough to own guns, and fight wars, and vote for this country, but not to control ourselves with alcohol.
But enough with this worn-out argument. As I said, the real question of young-adult voting participation is the lack of interest in the government. It's not that young people aren't interested in government. Go into any high school, high school, or college in this country and you will see young people everywhere participating in their student governments. So why is this any different than participating in our national government? Perhaps it is because we really have no say, and other than voting, cannot truly participate in this government until an older age. Maybe if there were some way for interested young adults to more actively participate in the government...perhaps a special government program that would supplement an ordinary education by allowing students to directly sit in on governmental proceedings, and not only observe, but actually participate. Now granted, this would be an extremely elite group of young adults, the ones who truly show an interest in government. But elite also means diverse...young adults of all racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. I believe that this special "semester with the government" could provide the country with hundreds, if not thousands, of young adults who would be truly interested and knowledgeable in governmental proceedings -- while at the same time, making other youngsters, both of age and younger, yearn for the chance to be part of such a program. And if these young adults who participated in this program stayed in touch with their University's student government, perhaps this would create a way for college kids all across the country to communicate their ideas and beliefs to someone directly involved with the government, someone their own age who, while not an actual member of the House or Senate, could actually voice those ideas and beliefs to people who actually maybe would use them. A program of this nature could serve two purposes: it would help older generations see that there are "nice" young people out there, and it would create greater participation and interest in the younger generations.
I know that some of these ideas seem far-fetched, and pretty radical, but perhaps it is time for a radical change concerning the way young people participate in the government. These ideas may not be cure-alls in regards to voter participation among young-adults, but perhaps upon modification and refinement, a true solution could arise. However, if the government truly is interested in and concerned about young-adult government participation, maybe it should ask the young people themselves. After all, it is us they are concerned with, and the way to remedy this problem is not to put the issue before Congress, but to put the issue before the young people of America.