High school student
Essay themes: Hands on experience
MTV, a channel on cable television viewed by thousands of teens and young adults every day, recently sponsored a campaign titled "Exercise Your Right to Vote." MTV ran a series of television programs and commercials with many youths stating why they chose to vote. The effort and money that MTV spent in getting young people involved demonstrates how substantial a problem my generation has in political participation.
In our present day society, young people often feel uninspired and some even uninterested in politics and political participation. Many candidates today do not always appeal to the younger voters. The young people that are eligible to vote often base their decision on superficial judgments or sometimes do not vote at all. In order for voting and political participation to increase, the young people need to be educated and included in voting and elections. Furthermore, people that are able to vote but are still under the required age to hold certain public offices should be given more opportunities to work alongside a political figure and also to be included in discussions with the elected official.
The opinion and vote of young people has been overlooked in many elections. A candidate could not only get much needed votes if he chose to attract the younger voters, but he could get people in my age group passionate about politics as well. The key to reform is in educating and inspiring young people while they are still in high school or college. For example, on International Day, students, teachers, and guest speakers prepare and deliver presentations in my high school on aspects of world culture ranging from politics to religion and even food. Teachers accompany their classes to these presentations, and the students that actually run some of the presentations learn something new about a particular topic too. If the same type of hands on application was applied during election season, students would become interested in voting or running for public office.
One obvious implementation of this process would be for the student government to organize a forum composed of local or even state candidates during an election. Students could ask questions that really matter to them. It is vital that the issues debated on political television programs be brought to a level that is also applicable to the youth in our society today. In the same spirit, those young people not yet eligible to vote could pass out pamphlets about the candidates or party they consider most important. The key to this program would be to have the students that still cannot vote involved in politics. Therefore, once they reach eighteen years of age they will want to hold a public office or vote in elections. Former President John F. Kennedy was especially proficient at getting the younger people inspired by politics. He understood that just being part of a campaign is exciting for most young people.
Once the youth are educated about the possibilities of politics, many of them will want to hold a public office. However, according to laws already in place, people under a minimum age are ineligible to run for certain offices. This type of policy can turn many excited youths away from a successful career in politics. As a result, more positions need to be created for aspiring political leaders to work with people in politics on the local, state, or national level. On one hand, these positions would give the leaders of today the chance to apprentice and influence the leaders of tomorrow. On the other hand, the people in these newly created positions would be able to learn the ins and outs of politics as well as add their own personal input on decisions.
Although a national shadow program is in place today, it only provides a glimpse of the possibilities in politics. When I shadowed my town's First-Selectman last year, I was able to gain a lot of insight on how government is run in my town. Nevertheless, I was only able to spend a day with the elected official and I did more observing than interacting. This new system would have the young people working in an important environment early in their careers. A political science major in college could apply what he learned in his lectures to real life situations. In addition, the most dedicated young people that take the time to seek out apprenticeships will have both hands on experience and the support of people already well known in politics as they venture into the exciting world of government. Finally, the creation of new positions will bridge the gap between the elected officials and the regular citizens. Young people could serve as liaisons between the two groups and at the same time spur more interest in political participation. Despite recent setbacks in political participation by young people, this problem can be rectified through thoughtful and meticulous reforms. Showing young adults that politics can be inspiring through education and interaction will unquestionably increase interest in politics by young people. Creating more positions in which young people work with politicians everyday will keep political participation at a high level.
VALERIE BASHURA MANCHESTER, CT College student Born: 1975 Essay themes: To increase the amount of information available to new voters, to create mobile voting locations, and to revamp the existing Electoral College system
As a nation, we stand at the dawn of the 21st century. It is an exciting time for the citizens of this country. Already, in the first month of the new millennium, many changes have occurred. Computer systems worldwide have been updated for Y2K. The economy is booming and the unemployment rate is steadily decreasing. People are ripe for change; they anticipate and expect it. It is time to extend such Y2K changes to the political system. We need to bring the electoral system from the 19th century to the 21st century, in order to ensure that the youth of today will both embrace and take advantage of their ability to shape the future of this country, simply by voting. I propose three changes to the current electoral system. It will be most effective to implement these as a package; however, gradual implementation in a systematic fashion is also feasible. The three reforms that I propose are to increase the amount of information available to new voters; to create mobile voting locations; and to revamp the existing Electoral College system.
Information is important to the success of any initiative. Students are educated in a variety of subjects, from English and History to safe driving and safe sex. However, while many young people learn about the historical aspects of the electoral system, a significant number are not educated about the current political structure. The majority of young people are aware that they are eligible to vote at the age of 18. Depending on what subjects they concentrate on in school, this may be all that they know about the electoral system. It is crucial to educate people under the age of 25. I propose the distribution of a "First Time Voter" packet at the time of registration. This should include basic information about the electoral system, such as party structure, election rules, and other pertinent state, local and federal information. This is the crucial first step in increasing voter turnout in young people, who are most likely to become involved in something that they understand. High school and college students are typically very busy, between classes, work, and other obligations.
Additionally, many students do not have access to transportation. For example, most large colleges and universities do not permit students to have cars on campus until they have attained a certain semester standing. Thus, the creation of mobile voting locations would allow students to have the polls come to them, instead of vice-versa. I make this recommendation based on the success of both the DMV bus for license renewal and mobile blood drives that service schools and companies around the country. Obviously, this is an enormous and costly task; however, pilot programs could be implemented in order to gauge their success. Areas that would be of particular interest are large college campuses and inner-city high schools, where students typically have decreased access to discretionary transportation. An additional point to consider is that unlike Internet or mail voting, this would still allow officials to check picture identification, and to maintain the integrity of the voting process.
Perhaps the most substantial reform that could take place is a dramatic reorganization of the way that the Electoral College system functions in this country. Speaking from experience, many young people believe that their one vote does not matter, as the Electoral College votes ultimately decide the election. It is time to change this system, to allow for better representation of the public by the members of the Electoral College and to educate the public about these reforms. With the collection of data from Census 2000, the government can make drastic changes, in order to ensure representation for all age groups in the Electoral College. In addition, Electoral College members should speak with their respective constituents, to both educate them and to assess what they desire in a political representative.
In conclusion, I believe that the three reforms that I have proposed will increase the turnout of voters under the age of 25, and that it is feasible to implement these recommendations within the next few years, on some level. It is a turning point for American government; dramatic changes to the political system will captivate young people. It is essential to motivate high school and college students to participate in the electoral system. They are the future of this country, the brilliant minds that will determine where we will go in the 21st century and beyond.
SARAH CHASE KENT, CT College student Born: 1980 Essay themes: State of democracy in America, consideration of the democratic process as a whole
The American political system is faltering under the weight of unsure democracy. Low voter turn out is just a small fraction of the problems arising out of the democratic system in the United States. The sound of this is not appealing to Americans, particularly anyone who is a great fan of democracy. However, this is not a pessimistic accusatory observation. The problems with American Democracy are deeply rooted and can be traced back to the great liberal thinkers; Hobbes and Locke. Fundamental distinctions have been made between what democracy is based upon and what Americans expect. Low voter turn out is a reflection of this error in the democratic system of government. What Americans expect from their government is not what they receive. Therefore, the urge to vote is diminished and the voting legacy is lost. There are a multitude of things which may be done to encourage voting; such as longer voting hours, better media drives, a lowered voter age, and Internet voting. However, these initiatives seem juvenile compared to the real problem - we cannot be equally represented by our government. Yet, one must also take into account other factors; is it really a problem that less people vote? Perhaps they do not vote because they are happy with the way things are? On the other extreme, people may not be voting because they are unhappy with the way things are and feel ostracized by their government.
Looked at rationally, voting itself is entirely irrational because only the votes of millions count. The truth is that one singular vote does not matter. To encourage voting an illusion must be created that "every vote counts". Once a person believes this illusion they take into account the costs and benefits of voting: You must make a well informed decision, which means plenty of research and understanding; Your highly researched vote will ultimately wind up counting the same as the vote of the dunce down the street; Voting is your duty, but it is not in your best interest; 4) again, it is irrational.
Democracy is the rule of the majority. Therefore, those who hold the majority will be those who vote. The great task is now to encourage the next majority not the next vote. A few votes here and there do not count. Internet voting, Election Day voter registration; and lowering the voting age only scratch at the surface of the democratic depths. A better informed, better educated, and better treated public will vote and create the next paradigm shift in American democracy. Sadly, in order for this to happen well-informed voters must take the initiative to make these social reforms possible; yet, the majority is not interested in such things. American democracy is stagnant.
JAMES LUCIA TRUMBULL, CT High school student Born: 1982 Essay themes: Historical importance of voting, Internet voting
The Internet Initiative - A Possible Solution to the Problem of Voter Apathy
Yesterday's disenfranchised voters, the African Americans, women, and the oppressed minorities fought long and hard to gain their right to vote. Yet now we are faced with a new problem that has no precedent in our history. Our American youth are abdicating their right to vote and are replacing it with a disillusioned antipathy toward participation in government. How shall we deal with this? The solution cannot be instituted by the federal government, because my peers feel that Washington does not represent us. The solutions that I feel would solve our problem of voter antipathy, would be the expansion of the initiative, the reformation of the campaign finance system, and the implementation of a teledemocracy harnessing the power of the Internet. Before one can look for answers to the future, the past must be examined. The Progressive Era, circa 1900, was a time when people were fed up with the rampant corruption in the government. The city bosses and political machines monopolized politics, keeping power out the people's hands and in their own. The progressive reformers fought the corruption in politics and government by instituting the initiative, a measure allowing people to propose a bill. There message was clear, the cure for the ills of democracy was More Democracy. Now in our time of increased disillusion with the government, it becomes clear our only viable solution is to take our democracy away from Washington D.C. and bring it back to the people. As Woodrow Wilson said, "Government should not be made an end in itself, it is a means only to advance the best interests of the social organism." Our representatives have become too independent and distanced from the wills of their constituents. The initiative's power must be expanded so, through a majority vote, the people would decide the issues that the state will tackle. When given a three-quarters majority consensus of the people, the legislature must approve of the bill that is proposed to them. One may think that this is the ultimate form of tyranny of the majority, but this is not the case. These powers will be tempered by the sheer fact that a majority vote of all the areas voters would be required for a certain proposal to be effected. Therefore only be issues of pressing importance, and not trivial matters, will appear before their elected representatives. This process would improve our democracy by empowering the people with the ability to set the agenda for the state. The representatives would still have the final decision over the fate of the proposals that the people bring before them. But what of the three-quarters forced passing of a bill that I mentioned. This process would be checked by the legislature's ability to amend the proposed bill, but not grossly tamper with its original intentions. Another check on this immense power would be our court system's ability to judge the constitutionality of these laws. This expansion of the initiative would make me feel more important as a citizen, because now I would feel that my elected officials were not just listening to those special interest lobbyists down in D.C. As a citizen, my powers will have increased by expanding the initiative. Thus I would be more empowered as a citizen. I would feel obligated to work to take part in initiatives because I would know that the issues at hand would be of importance to me and my community. The people would be empowered as, "We the People," the first three words of our constitution, so clearly enunciate.
Another issue that is of import is the power of special interest groups. In the Progressive Era efforts to use the initiative often failed because special interest groups spent large sums to lobby the public and influence their voting. Campaign finance is a recent and pertinent example this practice. We must place a cap on the amount that individuals and associations can pay for campaigns. These people would still be exercising their vote by giving money to their cause, but not in such grossly disproportionate sums as we see today. Enacting such legislation would not only get rid of the so-called money primaries, it would contribute to social equality by allowing people other than the idle rich to run for office. Recent examples would be Trump, Forbes and Perot.
Lastly I would like to discuss how we can use the untapped resources of technology to expand our democracy. When I lived in Illinois there was a motto amongst the local residents, "Vote early and vote often." The Internet gives us this unprecedented ability to vote early and freely. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "the most powerful and perhaps the only means that we still possess of interesting me in the welfare of the country is to have them participate in the government."
Internet voting would be beneficial because it would give my peers an easy and viable means of voting. Computers are involved in our lives all the time, why not utilized this tool to create a digital democracy in which all citizens have the power of the ballot box at their homes. Let us face the facts, to balance the incredible powers that we give to our elected representatives, we must assert the importance of the people in our government. We can only do this by creating the "Internet Initiative". The mass communications network of the Internet will make it possible for unprecedented numbers people to vote over what they want their government to do. To counter for some problems with campaign finance reform will be implemented such that no minority can impose its views through its pocketbook. We the people we must reestablish our importance in the government if we are to curb this voter apathy that plagues our nation. It is the say of generation that will decide the fate of America in the next century. Let us begin by rediscovering our democratic ideals.