Why We Don't Vote Essay Contest

We thank the following judges for reading and evaluating the essays written by the 36 finalists who were identified by the staff of the Center for Voting and Democracy and Midwest Democracy Center. The judges did a careful, thoughtful and often enthusiastic job. As explained in our explanation of the contest and its procedures, their vote was final. Following is a list of our judges and some of their comments about the contest.

Pam Adams (IL) - Columnist, Peoria Journal-Star

John B. Anderson (DC) - Former Congressman (R-IL) and 1980 presidential candidate

Tom Brazaitis (DC) - Washington senior editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Melanie Campbell (DC) - Executive director, National Coalition for Black Voter Participation

Jan Flapan (IL): President, Illinois League of Women Voters president

Curtis Gans (DC): Director, Committee for the Study of the American Electorate

Arianna Huffington (CA): Author and syndicated columnist

Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL): U.S. Representative (D-Illinois)

Bill Jones (CA): Secretary of State, California (R)

Sheila Jordan (CA) - Superintendent of schools, Alameda County

Meredith Keiser (PA) - Executive director, FIRST

Bob Levey (DC) - Columnist, Washington Post

Richard Linklater (TX) - Film director (Dazed and Confused, Slacker, etc), Austin

Nikki Love (HI) - Former youth chair, Reform Party

Brent McGoldrick (VA) - Project Director, Neglection 2000, with Russell Freyman

Abner Mikva (IL) - Former Congressman (D-IL), White House counsel and federal judge

Jay Parmley (NE) - President, Young Democrats

Tim Penny (MN) - Former Congressman (D-MN)

Jane Bryant Quinn (NY) - Author and syndicated columnist

Sofia Quintero (NY) - Editor, PoliticallyLatino.Com, New York

Suk Rhee (CA) - Program Director, Arsalyn Foundation

Juan Ros (CA) - Executive director, California Libertarian Party

Brad Rourke (ME) - Vice President, Institute for Global Ethics, Camden

Kathleen Rutherford (CO) - New Politics Program, National Civic League, Denver

Ellen Spears (GA) - Southern Regional Council, Atlanta

Bradley Smith (DC) - Professor of law (Capital Univ., OH) and Federal Election Commission

Sam Smith (DC) - Author and editor, Progressive Review

Paul Taylor (DC) - Executive director, Alliance for Better Campaigns

Pam Adams: "The high school entries were pretty even. The most poignant theme was the desire for more civic education."

Jan Flapan: "The number of students politically active in their communities who didn't vote is interesting, proving that people don't see community and political issues as having a connection.

The number of students who didn't know where to find information on candidates is surprising.

Jesse Jackson, Jr.: "I am proud of the young people who participated in The Center for Voting and Democracy's essay contest. They prove that not only do young people want to be involved in government, but also they have clear ideas of ways to encourage more involvement by their peers as well as their parents. The young essayists also threw down the gauntlet to elected officials like myself. They challenge us to be more accessible, to teach them about government, to show them how their votes make a difference and to make all aspects of voting, from registering to casting a ballot, more user friendly. I agree with them, and I accept their challenge."

Sheila Jordan: "The best of the essays are a call to action. We 'adults' spend too much time lamenting the apathy of youth and too little time attempting to remedy the situation…I especially appreciated the suggestions that we include voting issues in the curriculum, lower the voting age, expand registration programs, and employ marketing to increase awareness and commitment."

Meredith Keiser: "The essays reflect the diversity of opinions of young people. Many solutions were about "what 'you' can do for 'me.'" The ones that got the highest ranking focused on personal responsibility."

Richard Linklater: "It was amazing how some of the students came to such different conclusions."

Nikki Love: Amazed by how many students wanted online voting, and holiday on Election Day, and high school civics classes. "They must believe that more convenience and a little encouragement can help to bring students to the voting booth."

Jay Parmley: "Candidates and campaigners must speak to the younger generation. We must make voting easier."

Tim Penny: "I particularly enjoyed those that challenged us to 're-think' democracy- for example, lowering voting age, allowing easier ballot access for third parties, proportional voting, instant runoff."

Sofia Quintero: "The level of both passion and sophistication would impress all those who have written off this generation as ignorant and apathetic toward politics, these essays prove quite the contrary. If youth do not vote it's a rational decision based on our complacency, not theirs. The honesty and candidness are also impressive."

Suk Rhee: "The vote must be easy to access and meaningful to cast. I think the authors have captured the spirit of any effort to increase voting and other political participation."

Juan Ros: "Essays were thoughtful. There is a consensus that young people aren't necessarily disinterested in politics- rather, they blame the system for difficulty in accessing their voting privilege."

Brad Rourke: "These were really fantastic essays. I was especially impressed with the work of the high schoolers. Clearly, American politics needs to pay more attention to Generations X and Y in a way that goes beyond the feel-good substance-free town-halls to which they are so often treated. Most striking to me was the strong desire for a new sort of leader-one who takes responsibility not only for his or her actions, but also for leading the people."

Kathleen Rutherford: "Great exercise, lots of good insight and some thoughtful, some amusing commentary."

Bradley Smith: Disturbed by the high level of alienation and cynicism. Found it was interesting that many dissatisfied youth had a positive primary experience with candidates and campaigns thus the psychological climate created by older voters plays a large role in falling youth participation. The media's "horse race" coverage of campaigns, corruption, gridlock, and petty squabbling in politics are creating negative perspectives. Most essays call for a more open, fluid system or eliminating barriers to participation.

Sam Smith mentioned the need for better writing and critical thinking by young people.