Saint Paul, MN
High school student
Essay theme: Proportional representation
Melissa M. Flicek
Essay theme: Proportional representation
Political participation in the United States is at an all-time low. Statistics reveal that only some 30% of the population at large even bothered to show up at the polls during the last congressional election. For some reason, this climate of apathy is particularly rife among young voters. This may be due to a number of causes. However, a primary factor motivating young people's disgust with the American political process is the entrenchment of a two-party state. The young of this nation largely feel that the election process is destined to be controlled by a propertied elite that can afford to manipulate a system that cares only for corporate interests. This is extremely unfortunate: the future of the American republic depends upon a caring and able electorate. Failure of the youth of the nation to take an active role in politics will inevitably make their dire predictions come true namely, politics will become controlled only by those special interests who have the time and money to foist their proposals upon the dominant parties. Thankfully, there is a simple solution to the problem of voter apathy among youth. Establishment of a system of proportional representation for at least some seats in the United States Congress will make it possible for candidates who are not members of the Republican or Democratic parties to hold high public office and would go far toward eliminating young people's negative feelings toward the democratic process.
Proportional representation is defined as a system in which a party is assigned a number of seats in a nation's legislative body based upon the overall proportion of popular votes they can capture. This stands in stark contrast to America's "winner-takes-all" system, in which any candidate who captures a plurality of votes in an individual district wins the seat. America's system creates situations in which candidates who capture as little as 30% of the vote in some close races capture the only available seats for their districts, and those who support the proposals of alternative candidates are effectively denied any representation whatsoever for the next two to six years. The winner-takes-all system also contributes to a campaign style that rewards vile personal attacks instead of relevant, issue-based argumentation. Because a candidate needs only to capture a plurality of votes in a given district, it behooves him or her to paint his or her opponents as the "spawn of Satan," often hiring private investigators to dig every last bit of personal "dirt" that is available. At the very least, this style contributes to campaigns that attempt to portray one s own candidate as the "lesser of two evils," and with third-party options actively discouraged from running from local office because of restrictive ballot access regulations and the sheer difficulty of effectively challenging the two-party status quo in a multitude of localities, the end result is often campaigns in which any relevant discussion of philosophical or policy differences is discarded in favor of extremely negative and irrelevant campaigning.
Small wonder, then, that young people are staying away from the polls in droves. Many studies and surveys reveal two interesting aspects of youth's voter apathy: first, too many young Americans simply feel that they have extremely low political efficacy. As the punk rocker and raconteur Jello Biafra put it: "If voting really changed anything, they would have made it illegal." Many youth find that the two major political parties cannot or will not speak to any of their individual interests. Second, voters in general, and youth in particular, are turned off by negative campaign tactics. Numerous young political activists have expressed the sentiment that prevailing political tactics of "digging up dirt" on candidate's "personal lives" serves only to detract from the fact that most Republicans and Democrats hold ideologically similar beliefs. Left with a choice between "Tweedle Dum" and "Tweedle Dee," it is inevitable that this generation will become even more cynical about American politics.
Thankfully, a system of proportional representation would have many benefits. First, proportional representation makes it possible for third parties, even those with single-issue focuses, to make their voices heard both during the electoral process and in the legislature itself. The case of the German Green Party bears this out: even though they never won more than 10% of votes in any local election, they managed to hold several important positions in the Bundestag and to force many important environmental reforms as the major parties were forced to compromise to gain Green support. As the election of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota makes eminently clear, young voters are willing to turn out for viable third-party candidates, and the ability of groups previously considered to be on the political "fringe" to push their agendas will definitely help youths turnout. Secondly, proportional representation is likely to significantly decrease negative campaigning. Because in a proportional system all parties are likely to gain some seats, and because the main focus of campaigning will no longer be winner-takes-all local races, candidates will actually be forced to debate relevant issues in order to capture as significant a percentage of the nationwide vote as possible. Anecdotal data from the recently devolved Scottish Parliament, which chose a proportional system of representation, reveal that issue-based campaigning increased significantly with the changed focus of the electoral system.
The choice is simple: America can continue on the disastrous path of "winner-takes-all" local elections which for the past 100 years have forced nothing but false choices between major party candidates, or take the lead of nations like Scotland and Germany and adopt proportional representation, which has been empirically proven to bring about genuine multi-party democracy. Regardless of what choice we make, the future of the American experiment is at stake.
Essay themes: Lower Voting Age for school board only, education
One of the greatest problems facing democracy and voting is the lack of actual voters; voting turnout is so low that it does not accurately represent the country's population. Some of the reasons for this problem are ignorance of the importance of voting, a broad sense of apathy about voting and democracy, and the feeling that voting doesn't matter because whoever is elected doesn't have any effect on people's daily lives. Solving these problems will require a lot of work and some drastic changes, but there are solutions. Lowering the voting age to sixteen would dramatically help increase young voter turnout, but lowering the voting age without making other changes will not suffice. Young people will need to be encouraged to vote by changes in education and the political system. For example, schools would have to change the curriculum of high school social studies classes to require an in-depth examination of the voting process and of the coming elections. The conclusion of this segment of the class would come when the students vote in the election. An alternative that might be easier to get through the political system -- and encourage greater young-voter turnout -- is to lower the voting age to sixteen only for school board elections. This is a better idea because the school board directly affects the student population, and by being able to help decide who is on the school board, students would be influencing policies that directly affect them. Also, since school board elections are on a smaller scale than national elections, students would be able to see the results of their votes in a much more direct way than in a general election. Seeing the results would dramatically reinforce faith in the democratic system by showing the students the power of the votes. By doing this, students will have started the habit of voting at an early age in and through school, and they will have a very clear understanding of the importance and need for voting. This will set the stage for an informed and active voting future. A prime example of the practicality and of the effectiveness of this idea was the activities of my social studies class during the first trimester of the school year. We became very involved in the recent Minneapolis school board election. We spent weeks learning about the candidates and the process of voting, discussing the candidates and their positions. We invited all the candidates to our class for a forum. All eight appeared, and we really grilled them with prepared and spontaneous questions. This was a very beneficial activity, because it gave me the chance to learn about the electoral process and to determine which candidates I preferred. I was one of fewer than half a dozen students who had turned 18 and could vote, but I have no doubt that the rest of my class would have voted in that election had they been eligible. All my classmates showed enthusiasm and were very well informed -- better informed than some of the candidates. By having contact with the candidates, my classmates became aware of who they liked and disliked and why. Political participation by young people is important because without the young's voice, the government doesn't know where to go or what to do to please them. A government with no input from its citizens is not going to be very popular or last very long. It's sort of a circular problem; a lot of young people feel there's no point to voting because they think the government doesn't help them, but the government can't help them if they don't vote. It's important to break that pattern and inform and involve young adults because then our government will truly reflect the wishes of its citizens.
Essay theme: Multi-party system
Young people in America, in my opinion, are disenchanted with government. We live in a system where we feel like no matter what we do, we can't make a difference because we're never given any issue to vote on. Each election, we're forced to choose between two candidates, neither of which belong to any strict set of principles. If young people felt they actually were voting for "something" then I think they would get out and vote. I would therefore propose two major changes to our present system: a true multi-party system and frequent referendums.
First of all, if the United States moved to a multi-party system, similar to that of most European countries, where a party is an institution which elects a certain agenda to forward by popular vote within the party. Then, that agenda would have to be maintained by a candidate from that party, or risk being removed from the party. In this way, voters would be able to vote on a certain issue, rather than an individual. A multi-party system would also create a situation in Congress where parties would be forced to work together in order to pass legislation, because an individual party would not compose the majority.
Secondly, as with a multi-party system, I believe that young people want to vote on issues, not in a popularity contest in search of a candidate with more money than the other guy. By using referendums and allowing voters to truly decide on an issue, I strongly believe that the masses will rise to the challenge. In this way, citizens could use their right to vote to actually express their opinion on a particular issue, instead of simply voting for a candidate who has little recourse to his or her promises. Also, by using referendums, we would take some of the power away from our representatives and put it back in the hands of the people. In a system of checks and balances, referendums would be just one more check to make sure that important decisions were decided by the will of the people.
Whatever changes take place in the coming years, something does need to be done. Democracy entails freedom. Democracy means allowing the citizens of the nation to decide for themselves what is right, what is important. In today's society, people my age no longer feel that freedom that impassioned past generations to fight and even die for this country. It is important for the American people to reclaim their right to decide, their right to vote on issues that concern them, for are we not the best judges of what is right and wrong for ourselves? I truly believe that young people want to make a difference, and that they have important contributions to make. However, if reform doesn't take place to allow a forum for those contributions to be made, the United States will find itself with a very disenchanted public. Our strength is found in our people, and in their ability to rule themselves. If we lose that strength, we lose the very principles that have caused so much bloodshed in the past, and so much pride in our ancestors.
In conclusion, a multi-party system and popular referendums would be effective changes to make in order to increase not only voting in the ranks of young people, but of all ages. To end with, I'd like to use the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau in On Social Contract. "I was born the citizen of a free state and a member of the sovereign, and, however feeble an influence my voice may have on public affairs, my right to vote on them suffices to make it my duty to inform myself on such matters." In the end, if you give young people the opportunity to have an influence, I have confidence that they will make that influence one of sound judgment and meaning.
"The wiring of American democracy is disconnected," writes Mark Strama, acting president of MTV's Rock the Vote. Many analysts have noted that younger voters stubbornly resist political mobilization, and this abandonment of the nation's deliberative policy process is grounds for concern. Lack of participation by the average citizen leaves the seat of power open to occupation by a democratically elected oligarchy. Action to restore public engagement in politics is essential to preserving a system of government in which the people's concerns are addressed.
It is important to understand that the departure of "Generation X" from government does not, on the whole, reflect unwillingness to contribute to the common work of society. Even as interest in politics falls sharply, young people are volunteering in record numbers. Jonathan Cowan, senior adviser to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, notes that volunteerism among freshmen is at a thirty-year high. Melissa Bass, founder of the Civic Practices Network, writes that young people are volunteering "individually and in groups, participating in projects as diverse as the young people themselves." Two barriers, however, stand between translating young Americans' commitment to serving their society into participation in the governance of that society. One obstacle is attitudinal, the other structural, and both must be removed if the members of Generation X are to become players in the political games of democracy." Removing the attitudinal barrier means overcoming a pervading cynicism and convincing young voters that politics is worthwhile. A poll of college students, for example, conducted by the Boston Globe found that more than half believed meaningful changes in society cannot be achieved by political processes.
Rep. Matt Dunne contends that Generation X's political attitudes are defined by its members' having only experienced politics since Watergate. Distrust of government, he writes, drives young people to bypass the traditional bureaucratic processes and form their own organizations to directly address whatever problems have their concern. Young people then volunteer for these organizations out of the belief that groups in their own communities can be more effective than impersonal "politics as usual" in Washington. According to Bass, this breed of direct action is fueled by community service graduation requirements in many schools, as well as classroom projects and extracurricular programs that encourage students to address problems themselves rather than seek government action. Dunne unwittingly suggests the solution to the problem of politically immobile youth, one that utilizes their existing commitments to non-profit service organizations. In the context of what reforms Generation X could make once in elected office, Dunne advocates shifting many responsibilities for implementing government policy to non-profit organizations, making them "integral and parallel partners" with the government in achieving shared goals. Dunne never makes the connection to the youth already involved in these organizations, but if his approach were implemented, it would certainly increase the willingness of youth to participate in the political process.
If Dunne's suggestion is followed, with a special emphasis on organizations formed and staffed by younger citizens, the young people whose organizations work closely with government agencies will begin to see government not merely as a mass of red tape but instead as a source of action, power, and solutions. This shift in perception is key to a shift in Generation X's political attitude. America's younger voters are receptive to such a plan. When young voters at MTV's Rock the Vote were asked why they wanted to vote, Strama writes, "the vast majority of them wrote that "they were going to vote because they were Americans and it was their right, or because other people had fought an died so that they could vote, or because they loved their country." This candidly expressed patriotic spirit among Generation X should signal that sanctimonious lecturing on the value of the vote would be superfluous effort. All that is needed to transform this attitude into actual participation at the polls is a government philosophy that demonstrates to America's young people that real-world political institutions are worthy of the devotion these citizens give to the democratic ideal in the abstract. Equal partnerships between government and the non-profit groups young voters identify with will provide this necessary step in the process.
Even when young people are motivated to vote, however, they still face significant structural obstacles to registering and casting ballots. The solutions to these problems, however, are significantly simpler and more straightforward than the attitudinal changes we have discussed. The simplest and most effective way to get young voters involved in elections is to conduct voter registration drives in high schools to register seniors as they turn 18. Taking the time to find and complete a registration card is not a high priority for most young people, but if the process is made convenient in their schools, they are more likely to vote once the initial hassle of registering is done. Additionally, young voters' hectic schedules should be accommodated by extending both the morning and evening hours during which the polls are open. These changes can be conducted at the local level with state support to allow adaptability to the unique circumstances of each community's voting population. At the federal level, Strama contends that students' voting rights should be clarified to protect them from harassment by local officials or confusion regarding whether a student is registered in the district of his/her college or at the student's permanent address. Appropriate legislation and instructions to election judges could clarify these issues and make voting a convenient, hassle-free process for students. It is important to remember that such efforts are not empty gestures toward prodigal voters who have already thrown away their political inheritance.
Despite cynicism and distrust of government, 75 percent of voters between eighteen and thirty still believe their votes can make a difference. If we encourage a shift in attitudes toward government and minor changes to the voting process, Strama's "wiring of American democracy" can be completed, and the workings of the people's government will be powered by the energy of new generations of free citizens.
Essay themes: Remove candidate age limits, Electoral College, influence of money on politics
Why I Don't Vote Or The Electoral System Is A Joke
I may only be 18, but I feel that I am a very intelligent
and informed young
This voting problem is not just about voting, it's about society and the mess it's in. So listen up. Generation gaps do and always will exist. No 55 year old can know what life is like for an 18 year old. How can some rich old white man know what my ideals are, or how I want the world to be? Why should I vote for someone who is completely out of touch with me?
Politics is a game. Some puppet stands in front of the TV camera and spews out exactly what you want to hear. He or she is up there trying his or her best to win you over. It's not about welfare or reforms or tax cuts, it's about beating the other guy. I don't want to be part of that sick charade that effects millions of people.
The electoral system is a joke. People pour out to the polls, push a button, mark a circle, check a box, make a choice, but it doesn't matter. All those votes don't dictate who wins the election. They only say to the electors, hey- they like that guy. They can vote for who ever they want to, our vote doesn't matter. Wait a minute, I thought the word democracy meant the people rule. Oh, I guess democracy means it just looks like you rule.
Seems simple enough to me. I don't vote because the whole system is obsolete and politics has crumbled down to a corrupted game. How could I regain faith in our system? This is the part where I get real outlandish and idealistic, but then realize that it's all quite silly, so I give up my dreams and become part of the adult world. So here are my absurd thoughts.
Get rid of the electoral college. It was created because the founding fathers didn't think people were educated enough to make wise choices. But now we have TV, so every one can hear about the empty promises every politician makes. We're wise enough. Let the vote be direct! Remember what they word democracy means?
Break down age requirements for political positions. I could be really liberal and say that any person, at any age should be able to run for any position, but I'll let the law fence me in a bit and say anyone at least 18 years of age can hold an office. Age doesn't necessarily dictate wisdom, and having a diversity of age could create a more effective and understanding government. I know it's hard to believe, but age discrimination does exist.
Take money out of the picture. Let political campaigns be purely volunteer and donation (of goods, not money) run. Make it less of a competition, no one should have to drop out of a race because of lack of funds. Lack of morals or ethics yes, but not something so superficial as money.
Let the people's voice be heard! Politicians are supposed to represent the people, get what they want done. What the people need should not get caught up in the machinery of politics, the machinery of politics should move what needs to be done to action. If the people scream, "No more war!" the government should withdraw troops. If the people scream "Higher wages!" the government should raise minimum wage. The government if FOR the people, now lets make it that way!
I know that politics is not so simple as dropping bombs in the oceans or saying to big business, "Hey- quite laying off those workers." But why shouldn't it be? What is wrong with people that we don't just eliminate guns or feed the hungry? What is wrong with the world? The people not going to the polls is representative of this bigger problem. The problem of hate, fear and war. People don't vote because all they see come of their votes is nuclear weapons and genocide. People don't vote because they feel afraid and helpless. Make the people feel safe and empowered, and then they will vote.
Essay themes: Need for more diverse and non-partisan candidates, publicized and Internet voting
As the 21st century begins, political participation by young people is at an all time high in Minnesota. Our newly elected governor, Jesse Ventura, sparked the interest of many young voters in Minnesota and brought record numbers out to the polls. This phenomenon is, unfortunately, uncommon.
Generally, young people do not participate in the electoral process. Being a young person myself, I understand both the importance to be an active citizen of the United States, and the overwhelming, "it doesn't affect me" syndrome. Many young people don't make it a point to vote because political issues usually involve taxes, social security, and welfare reform. These issues, however important, do not relate directly to young people today. It is true these issues will have an effect on us in the future, but right now that seems very far away. Candidates for political office also seem to be rich, smooth-talkers whose loyalties lie more with their political parties than the people whom they represent. Jesse Ventura was so popular because he was different, not a "a party" candidate, and talked on the level of the regular, everyday citizen. He reached the masses, not just an elite population who is well educated in politics and debate. It would be nice if everyday citizens had a better chance to run for office, not just the extremely wealthy business men, lawyers, and military leaders.
We need more representation amongst our political candidates. The typical political candidate is representative of a very tiny cross-section of the American population. The candidate is white, highly educated, financially successful, and usually male. In order to increase voter participation, we need to shatter this stereotype, and make running for office more accessible to all people. America is made up of people of all colors, genders, and social classes. We need to encompass all of these citizens in our decision-making process. Young Americans like to be able to relate to other people, especially political leaders making decisions for us. With the new millennium upon us, we have the opportunity to change. Now is the time.
Candidates should rethink their techniques when running for office. They should bring new issues into their debates. Reveal their opinions to the public on issues such as; Internet policies, higher education costs, increased drug use, homelessness in America, the increase in violence amongst children, domestic abuse, and the GLTB movements. Discuss the topics usually kept under the table, bring them to the forefront. These are hot college topics, and would draw students out to the poles. It would make us feel included, that the candidates are speaking to us on a level that we both understand and care about.
Our candidates should have to work for their votes. Travel around the country to make your face known, and speak to the common population. It is nice to see and know a person, not just their political platform. Visit colleges. The college population is one of present and future voters. Include us, we like to feel important. We like to think that our vote does matter, that everyone's vote matters. Prove to us that it does. Make voting accessible to all, talk the talk of the common people. Speak so we can all understand the issues. The larger audience you touch, the greater the voter turn-out will be. People will not take the time to vote or consider the candidates if they can't even understand what the candidates stand for.
A few changes in the actual voting process would be helpful in increasing voter participation among young people. Publicize the vote. If voting was more accessible, young people may be more apt to participate. If there were more locations for poles and if these locations were publicized or advertised successfully, it would increase voter participation. Also, if one could vote over the phone at a 1-800 number, it would make voting even more convenient. Another way to increase voter participation may simply be to create Internet poles. As this society becomes more and more technologically based, this idea makes sense. Young people are very computer literate and may be more apt to vote if they could do it from their PC. Trying to make voting more publicized, accessible, and easy may, in fact, increase voter turn--out not only for young people, but for all of the populations who currently do not participate.
My generation, the children of the baby-boomers, values truth, change, fast results, and a safe America where opportunity is available to all no matter what color, social status, or gender. We are the future of this country, and we will shape it into something that reflects our lifestyle and beliefs. In order for us to want to vote, you must offer us something that reflects our needs, wants, concerns, and way of life. If you do this, you will be surprised at the amount of participation you will receive.
If the political world makes an effort to include young voters of my generation in the electoral process, the impact it would have on us would be renewed faith in democracy. In school and throughout our lives, we have been told that we live in the greatest country in the world because everyone counts and one person can make a difference. However, in my experiences, one voice really doesn't do a whole lot, and many people are disenchanted with the whole democratic process. If we can recreate a true sense of democracy, the impact it will have won't be limited to just the young people, but will touch all of society.