Essays from North Carolina


MEGAN ROSELL
FRISCO, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Proportional representation, minority representation

SARAH ALLEN
GARNER, NC
College student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Voting locations, international voting, internet voting, finance reform

ABHISHEK CHATTERJEE
DURHAM, NC
College student, Born: 1978
Essay themes: Lack of motivation and representation, young people do not feel like there are candidates who reflect their concerns and interests, need for party diversity

CAMERON DEJONG
PINETOWN, NC
College student
Born: 1979
Essay themes: Change ballot access laws to strengthen third parties and also make the voting process

MELISSA K GARDNER
NASHVILLE, NC
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Increasing interest in government, getting politicians to represent us

RACHEL GURVICH
CARY, NC
High school student
Born: 1983
Essay themes: Restoring the faith of young people in the political system: the Electoral College, primaries, giving candidates free network television access, campaign finance issues, corruption, increased contact between the people and candidates, informing children about politics

BAXTER MOODY
VILAS, NC
College student
Born: 1975
Essay themes: Internet voting , election day holiday, motivating young people

ASHLEY ROGERS
WAKE FOREST, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Politics and voting treated as historical in classrooms, current political system not working for young people, role models

LORI E SANDERS
CHARLOTTE, NC College student
Born: 1980
Essay themes: Get more young people involved by treating them like adults

VANESSA STREETER
CARY, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay theme: Education

LARRY ZHAO
FAYETTEVILLE, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Required debates between all candidates, Internet voting, increasing the number of election days

MEGAN ROSELL
FRISCO, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Proportional representation, minority representation

Being able to cast my first vote in the 21st century is a privilege. My generation needs to accept their patriotic responsibility and vote because many reforms are needed in order to carry us into the new millennium. Voting reforms are necessary to inspire political participation for other modifications and adjustments needed in areas such as health care, education, and Social Security, all which we as young people will face in the future. Participation in elections is necessary to facilitate and enable progress, but our present day system of voting is expiring by frustrated Americans. Past elections have proven that our current electoral system is insufficient and an alternative is needed in order to pull our country out of "Political Depression". Why should we settle for the choices offered by two parties? Diverse and assorted representation of candidates would encourage larger voter turnouts. One method which could change the face of future elections is proportional representation. This method of electing representatives is used widely in Eastern Europe in such countries as Norway, Spain, Finland, and Germany. Large districts would be created where elected officials represent multi-member districts. This would reduce sectional and geographic animosity. The proportion of the party represented would be determined by the percentage of votes won by the parties. Winning requires only a share of the vote proportionate to the number of district representatives. This system allows for more representation than the two-party system currently used in the United States. The political spectrum would grow. A new congressional redistricting was passed in Virginia because of unlawful gerrymander. Proportionate representation would eliminate gerrymandering, the constant reelection of incumbents, and poor quality of candidates. These are flaws which are reality in the present voting system. Issueless campaigns, low voter turnout, and wasted votes are also characteristic of this system. New and minority parties have little or no chance of emerging. Only a few democracies in the world are still using the voting system similar to that of the United States. Minority parties would become more viable if proportional representation was in place. In our system today, a minority party has no chance of any representation. But, using the proportional system, they would receive a percentage of the seats in the legislature corresponding with the votes. A multi party system would develop, representing a number of minorities. Issue based candidates would also take precedence. Issues directly related to the people of the United States would have representation. This in turn would encourage voter turnout because peoples' views would be represented rather than merely a choice of several candidates. This also offers a greater diversity of candidates willing to address and focus on our problems as we exist in the 21st century. The advantages to the proportional representation system are numerous. More women would be represented, racial and ethnic minorities would not be overlooked, and issue-oriented campaigns would arise. Elections would become more exciting to the public because their voice and vote will make a difference. "Winner take all" will no longer exist. Americans will see that everyone is fairly represented, according to their vote. Other reforms on our present day voting system are being considered; configuring congressional districts to more fairly reflect the voting population, voting by mail, which makes voting easier and cost effective, and simplified voter registration. Telephone voting, early voting, and absentee voting are already in place for those who have difficulty making it to the polls. Even with these new programs, voter participation is still low. The plummeting political participation of our antiquated voting system needs to be addressed. It is apparent that the two party monopoly no longer serves our needs or draws our interest. On the average, United States has the lowest voter turnout in the democratic world. Surely, this will have a devastating long term effect if this voting system is kept in place. Our country will suffer "political paralysis". As a young American, I can participate in local political groups and organizations to discuss and examine proportional representation. Colleges and universities are places were election reform can be studied. The Voters Choice Act, introduced by Representative Cynthia McKinney, is an effort to repeal congressional legislation that mandates single member districts. This is an area where change can be promoted. Most important, educating others on the impending demise of our voting system, will encourage young adults, like myself, to become involved. Political power is a direct result of our electoral system. To meet the complex challenges of the 21st century, we need to meet the demands of a multi-issue, multicultural, and universal world. Changes in the voting system won't come easy. My generation needs to be innovated and explore new ideas to increase patriotism. We don't need to be silent observers, but active adults concerned with our future. The reform in voting directly affects issues that are in desperate need of reform to insure a quality of life equal or better than that of our ancestors.

SARAH ALLEN
GARNER, NC
College student
Born: 1981

Essay themes: Voting locations, international voting, Internet voting, finance reform

Having recently returned from participating in the 1998-99 Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange program, I had the opportunity to observe American voting habits from an international perspective. Having witnessed the September 1998 German Bundestag
Elections, I then watched from abroad the US Congressional elections in November. What a shock. While voter turnout in Germany for the Bundestag election averaged between 80 and 85 percent, the US Congressional election did not even manage to attract 40 percent of eligible voters. Thinking that such high voter turnout might just be due to the national election, I was surprised to find out that, 50 percent is considered low for a local election. Upon seeing the voter turnout results for the congressional election, and the later local election (with voter turnout sometimes as low as 20 percent), I was forced to ask myself, what is it that makes Americans more "poll-shy" than their European counterparts.

My first conclusion seemed to be the most obvious. Elections in Germany and, if I am not mistaken, in most of Europe are held on Sundays. Since in countries like Germany practically everything is closed except for the churches, there is really no excuse for not leaving the house to vote.

This leads me to my next point; voting locations are more accessible. For most people, the walk to the voting box is just that, a walk, meaning that no one needs to jump in a car to get to the voting location. Even the elderly are not excluded. For those who cannot walk or have special needs, members of the local political parties volunteer to drive those in need to the ballot boxes. Absentee ballots are even an option. But, what strikes me perhaps as the most convincing reason for higher voter turnout is a more personal connection to the issues and the candidates. Special interest groups and series of TV ads bashing opposing candidates do not drive political campaigns. Candidates are not some sort of celebrities, but are most of the time ordinary people. I don't mean to say, that US politicians are "super-humans" elevated above the average worker, but to a great degree, being a politician means that you have to have the monetary means to get there. PACs and advertisements have replaced the personal touch of a candidate. Do we even know anymore what issues are at hand?

Seeing just a few of the possible reasons for low voter turnout in the United States, it is time to begin to think of solutions. With regard to the first problem, and seeing that these days even Sundays have become almost as busy as the rest of the week, perhaps it is necessary to propose a national election day, on which things close down in order to ensure higher voter turnouts. As uncomfortable as this may be for some businesses, maybe it is time to start thinking about what issues are important, and how voting can help ideas become reality.

Secondly, while it may never be feasible with our city layouts and infrastructure to make voting locations within walking distance for everyone, something fare easier may just be at the tips of our fingers. With the increasing power of the Internet, online voting may be a necessary addition to voting options in the coming years. However, with this greater accessibility, extra implementations would need to be made to protect against duplicate votes and fraud, to name a few. It would also become more necessary to provide online non-biased information about the candidates and the issues, to make for a more informed voting public.

Finally, money can no longer be the source of power and elevation of candidates. Something must be done to curb campaign finance spending, in order to give a wider scope of qualified individuals the chance to run for office. Maybe a restructuring of our congressional system is in order, so that candidates are elected on a proportional vote system, thus giving third parties a greater chance for seats. While no system is free of flaws, as can be seen by the current allegations the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl accepted approximately one million dollars in illegal campaign donations, the fact that US Presidential candidates need over $34 million dollars in order to have any chance seems just absurd.

I don't claim to know what needs to be done to increase voter turnout, but I can only hope to add some suggestions. I think that once we get the average American interested in what is going on in our country and excited about issues, that, in addition to what I have already suggested, voter turnout will gradually rise up from the down slope. This needs to start in the schools. If the high-school graduates make up the majority of first time voters, they need to be prepared. This coming November, I will vote in my first Presidential election. I can only hope that I will be joined at the poles by an increasing
number of voters, looking forward to and excited by the new century and all the potential it brings.

ABHISHEK CHATTERJEE
DURHAM, NC
College student, Born: 1978

Essay themes: Lack of motivation and representation, young people do not feel like there are candidates who reflect their concerns and interests, need for party diversity

…the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is, MAN THINKING. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking...-Ralph Waldo Emerson from "The American Scholar"

The youth or American scholars of today do not lack the intelligence or know-how required to vote. They lack the motivation and appropriate representation. At a time in such a person's life when insecurity, let it be financial, emotional or both, reigns, voting becomes a lesser priority. To the potential young voter, a vote represents no reward as the issues important to young people are often unresolved by those running. Also, given our two party system, those issues that are addressed may be given only two answers when, in reality, more than two answers exist. Thus, our two party system of government diminishes the ability to address and explicate issues that the young voters hold important.

Today, the American scholar is educated, aware and opinionated about the events occurring in society. Often, he or she has at least a high school degree and most likely a college degree as well. In addition, the telecommunication revolution evolving as we speak presents an unparalleled access to information that is readily available to the potential young voters in America. Therefore, through the eyes of reporters on television or the infinite highway of opinion and observation in the Internet, the young are conscious and mindful of daily, political events. Therefore, the youth of America have become a group of independent, individual thinkers who have differing, unique opinions and wants. They have the dilemma of being represented by a system of government in which there are only two parties that make the laws and rules of society. Thus, an indifference arises as the youth are unable to fathom how their beliefs can be represented by this limited, restrictive mode of representation.

What is needed in America is a multi-party system that presents adequate representation of the varying views that our public holds. One is able to observe the lack in depth of clarification that the leaders of the present two party system hold on issues. For example, in the previous presidential elections, the debates held between the runners of both parties inadequately addressed important issues. Although a variety of topics were addressed, there was no layout of details suggesting plans of action upon areas such as health care, education or economic reform. Each candidate made a general overview on his stance upon a topic and then criticized the other candidate's stance. Without proper delineation of future, potential policies, the debates and eventually the whole election became a giant popularity contest that depended on who seemed most charismatic and likeable. The lack in depth or detail that is so common in the two party debates of today adds to the frustration of the potential young voter as no solid plans to resolve problems are easily available from the leaders of the two parties. A multi-party system of government would force politicians to deduce and broadcast what specific plans they have. If there are three, four or even five parties publicly debating their issues, then the population as a whole would have more views and opinions from which to choose. The limitation of having only two potential answers in a two party system would give way to a melting pot of answers as each politician representing each party in a multi-party system would search for new, better ways to solve a problem so that he or she gets the majority electoral vote. In addition, the multi-party system would demand that politicians clarify, in detail, their policies, views and plans because it would become essential to differentiate one party's stance from others. This need for clarification on views seems less essential in a two party system where, today, both parties often use "centrist" stances, which further fail to differentiate the average republican or democrat.

The best way to open the present system to more parties is by allowing more than two candidates to appear on the public debates on television. This will give the politicians of other parties the best chance to present their own views to the population, and young people can then have a better pool of options from which to choose. No longer will the American scholar be restricted by a narrow view but will have a better chance to express his or her individuality when voting as more views and answers are available. A good example of this can be related to the abortion issue. Presently, each party seems to have a "yes-no" stance on the topic. With more than two parties participating in our government debates, the ability to present more than just an affirmative or negative nod to an issue is possible. With diversity will arise creativity, and candidates will come up with more innovative plans such as support for pro-choice but under more restrictive terms or a more pro-life view with exceptions.

The potential young voters are looking for more choices. A two party system restricts the youthful mind into blindly following for the sake of party affiliation. A multi-party system would allow the youth to be an independent thinker who would believe that his or her vote could make a difference, and who would be able to actively choose the one representative who best represents the scholar's belief. America's young will then believe in the reality of a democracy.

CAMERON DEJONG
PINETOWN, NC
College student
Born: 1979
Essay themes: Change ballot access laws to strengthen third parties and also make the voting process

As a member of a third party and a candidate for public office at the age of 20, I find that many reforms are needed to reach out to the younger generation of votes who seem to have little or no interest in our political system. When I was 16 years old, I believed that the voting age should be lowered. I still stand by that today. If the voting age is lowered to 16, I believe there could be more teaching of political involvement in high school. Most teenagers believe that in order to make any difference, they must be registered to vote. As long as they have this ill-conceived notion on their mind, problems will continue. If 16-year-olds are allowed the opportunity to vote, they will take their classroom studies of the electoral process more seriously and perhaps become more involved than they currently are.

The one argument against lowering the voting age is that teenagers are not responsible enough to know who to vote for. I contest that theory with my own theory that a lot of people who are middle aged Americans today do not know anything about the candidates they vote for. I also believe that an irresponsible 16 or 17-year old is going to take the time to go to the polls to vote.

I also believe that third parties must be given easier ballot access. Many third parties, especially the Libertarian Party, appeal to today's generation, "Generation X" However, when the teenagers occasionally turn their news on, they hear nothing about third parties. They hear continuous news about the two major parties, who by most standards are pretty dull. Although large third parties are able to usually eventually get on the ballot in all 50 states, by the time they do so they have spent most of their available funding. This lack of remaining money keeps them from running credible races for local, state, and even federal offices. Without money, the third parties are ignored by the media and no one will ever find out about them, especially teenagers that barely scrape the news headlines as it is.

Another belief I have, that actually goes along with ballot access reform in many ways, is that all candidates that have ballot access in a "winnable" number of states be able to take part in all Presidential debates. It is amazing to find that the debate rules get more and more difficult as third party candidates become more and more organized and more powerful. We must open up the debate to all. Two other things I would love to see done is having election-day voter registration and having Election Day on a Sunday. A lot of people, especially younger people, do not realize the importance of voting until Election Day comes. Unfortunately it is too late as they can not register in most states on Election Day. Then after the election is over and they are still not registered, it all goes blank to them again and the process starts over again for the next election. By allowing election-day registration, we will find that more and more young Americans will actually get excited to vote. I am certain that unless a young person has voted, they do not realize how powerful a ballot can be.

A change that would help young and old voters alike would be to move Election Day to a weekend day, preferably Sunday. Having elections on Tuesdays keeps many of the working class and many students from voting. As a community college student in 1998, I found it rather difficult to find a spare 15 minutes to go vote. That was very sad, and I believe changes are needed for a day where most people have a good deal of free time.

In summary, it is apparent that changes are needed. Once we smarten up and change ballot access laws to strengthen third parties and also make the voting process more open to younger Americans and make it easier to vote, we will have more involvement by the younger generation and our electoral process will change forever. As my county commission campaign slogan reads, we need a "new age" and "new ideas." We can provide both by making the above mentioned reforms.

MELISSA K GARDNER
NASHVILLE, NC
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Increasing interest in government, getting politicians to represent us

To get America's younger generation to begin their adult lives by voting, the government and the candidates running for office should discuss issues that matter to us. Young people of today's society do not care so much about how many billions of dollars the government spends on foreign relations or our military. We care about things like the preservation of our national parks, money being put into our nation's schools, and preservation of our rights as Americans. Millions Americans take for granted their right to vote because the issues have become clouded with slurs and popularity contests. This is the cause that so many Americans no longer vote. I think that it is important for our society as a whole to get back to the basics and make voting a very special part of being an American. Women especially should appreciate their right to vote because of the struggle that we endured to get to where we are today.

Young people, like so many older people, forget that their vote really does matter. As a democracy we run our nation by speaking out and electing a leader that will make the right choices for us. If we do not speak out how are they to know what we really desire and want. Our founding fathers designed our system of government so that we would have a quality of life like no other country possesses. Our failure to vote is a sign that we have lost sight of our dreams and aspirations. Every American has the responsibility to take part in how our country is run and what changes we would like to see take place. Young people of today's society seem to have lost interest in the issues that our country faces. Lack of understanding, no interest in the particular topics, or the belief that they will not be heard are all reasons why so many of America's youth do not care about the government or its particulars. If government officials could raise young American's interest in government issues and policies the number of voters would increase dramatically. In order to raise these interests, officials are going to have to introduce topics that really matter to America's youth. An understanding of government and rights is essential to being a good and active member of American society. Maybe one day everyone in America will realize their role in society and take action to ensure that life as we know it will go on forever.

RACHEL GURVICH
CARY, NC
High school student
Born: 1983
Essay themes: Restoring the faith of young people in the political system: the Electoral College, primaries, giving candidates free network television access, campaign finance issues, corruption, increased contact between the people and candidates, informing children about politics

The statistics for the 1996 election for the participation of 18-25 year olds are abysmal. These numbers can only speak of one thing: a growing disillusionment with and cynicism about the institution of government in this age group, which, subsequently leads to indifference and decreasing numbers at the voting booths. Indeed, there must be some sort of remedy to this trend, which seems to be on the rise rather than approaching a solution.

Many of the current young people have become alienated from the political system for the same reasons voter turnout for all age groups recently has been low. The complexity and seemingly illogical nature of the current political machinery can distance adults, but even more so, those newest to the system. Consider, for example, the presidential race at hand. There would undoubtedly be many in the population who would be in favor of a complete abolition of the Electoral College system. It is indeed confusing, and seems to take some of the power away from the voters. Furthermore, the current system of primaries also seems to have no basis in reason; why is New Hampshire first, why is there a caucus in Iowa, why are the candidates virtually decided after the beginning of March? All primaries should be held on the same day, thus each citizen of every state would feel that he or she had an equal say in the matter.

The seemingly never-ending stream of opinion polls and the frequent and readily accessible musings of political pundits can be misleading and easily make the causes of many candidates seem almost futile before they have indeed become so. These things make for fascinating Sunday morning TV, certainly, but what do they do to the average young voter, or to any voter for that matter? If a person hears that candidate A is up 59% to candidate B's 31%, a popular response would be that the election has already been decided, and that person's vote is inconsequential either way. Something must be done to limit the number of these polls and TV shows, or else many will simply not care.

Next, each candidate should be allowed free access to network television. As it stands, debates and town meetings are featured only on obscure channels such as CNBC and MSNBC, C-Span and the like. Even if the voter has cable, they would be highly unlikely to be aware of what was happening on these smaller channels, much less deliberately turn their TV on such a station. With free, well-advertised television coverage on well-known stations, each candidate would have a chance to state their positions on the issues directly to the people, without worrying about how much it costs to purchase the time. Another issue pertaining to campaigning through the media: negative ads and mudslinging have become such a staple of elections nowadays that the public has become desensitized and distanced by the constant tirade of allegations and accusations. In a situation where PR is everything, there must be some restrictions placed on this sort of campaigning.

Another factor that often disillusions potential young voters is the inseparable link between politics and special interest groups, most namely large corporations who donate immense quantities of soft money to support candidates who would be willing to support their interests. Tobacco companies, for example, spend millions of dollars endorsing the candidates who would be most friendly to their cause. What sort of favoritism does this imply? How can an average American have confidence in a system that rides on so much money, on almost bribes, or on unethical constructs? How is a fulfillment of democracy's ideal, in which a person can only run for office if he can manage to raise millions of dollars, or accept positions based on what is dictated by those who have the money? There should be a merging of the private and the public sectors, without a doubt, but not in such a manner.

Integral to reinforcing the youth's faith in government is cleaning up the corruption. It is difficult to devise a practical solution to aid this problem, but it must be done. If politics becomes synonymous with corporate sharks, illegal and immoral activities, it is only rational that people will lose faith and subsequently interest in their government. Each and every person must further be made to feel important and elemental in the running of government. People should be able to have more contact with their elected representatives and candidates for office. With increasing technology, it would be possible to hold online web-chats with candidates. The admission would be free, and the form would simply a dialogue between a candidate and his constituents concerning the issues. The candidates should make a special effort to especially appeal to the youth; holding special forums exclusively with them, and letting them speak out.

However, one of the most important steps should be starting early. While Kids Vote programs are currently instituted in some states, they should be expanded and solidified. School should include a cursory unit on elections for elementary or middle school students in social studies class. This might only take a few weeks, but it would be invaluable to the making the child well informed and increasing his or her further participation in voting later in life. The most important place for a child to learn good voting habits is from his or her parents. If the parents adequately demonstrate that they take a sincere interest in the elections and the voting process, rather than the blatant cynicism many pass on to their children right now, the quantity of voting youths will most certainly increase. Steps should immediately be taken to correct this problem which currently is only getting worse.

The course of action outlined above is a good beginning, but more must be done with the help of elected officials and legislation. Most importantly, however, the young people themselves should be involved in this effort to reclaim their own government.

BAXTER MOODY
VILAS, NC
College student
Born: 1975

Essay themes: Internet voting , election day holiday, motivating young people

Before attempting to answer this question one should identify a reason or reasons for plummeting participation in voting for young people. Why are politicians not successfully tapping this resource? Perhaps many political figures are complacent about young voter participation because of the complexity of a platform that addresses both younger and older people. If any particular platform targets young people, the risk is considerable. Beyond the fact that it targets a notoriously uninvolved group, it may also alienate older constituents. Without votes from the relatively involved older group, a particular representative would not be in a favorable position for attaining the intended position.

Beyond the loss of votes, this older group makes a larger financial contribution to government and political concerns, which makes them arguably more important to politicians that depend on this financing. This argument indicates a possible cause and effect relationship that would narrow the focus for addressing this problem. We cannot depend on politicians to include young people unless young people motivate them. Assuming that any political candidate intends to hold a position that will increase his or her ability to represent their constituents, then the people that vote regularly will be targeted. This does not indicate that the candidate has made an error or is unconcerned with groups that do not vote regularly, but rather that they are representing a relatively large number of individuals that seek representation. As young people, we must indicate that we desire to be represented before widespread consideration is given to our political issues.

Now the question becomes, "Which reforms motivate young people to motivate politicians?" Many of the current potential reforms require youths to assume an active role to obtain the increased information or opportunity afforded by these measures. As an example, one suggestion is to require debates between all candidates for office. While this may create a perception of having more options, it depends on the potential voters to notice this opportunity and to interpret the extra information. This seems unrealistic to expect people who are already considered uninformed to see this as an opportunity. Observing how information is distributed to young people may provide a solution. Young people have widespread access to modern information systems such as the Internet and electronic sources. These resources are finding increased used across all age groups and will continue to be used as the young become the typically more interested voters. This establishes motivation for the political machine to evolve and utilize this tool by make registration and voting available online. Information is readily available online, but in such large amounts that it is almost undecipherable, especially for young voters that are still learning the political scene. Therefore additional attention should be given to establishing independent or unbiased presentation of issues and platforms as well as advertising these forums widely so that voters are aware that they exist. Making a move to a more electronic structure benefits all ages, not just young people. If the projections for increasing internet use are even moderately accurate, then this will not be a young voter's reform, but simply a voter's reform.

Measures such as making election day a holiday would probably increase participation across all ages, but that reform does not target young people. If we raise all voting percentages, then we have not adequately addressed young voters relative to others. In order to raise the number of young voters, each individual must ultimately be motivated by some personal conviction. With this in mind, perhaps the nature of this age group could be tapped to capture interest. Many people in this age group still have a considerable rebellious attitude remaining from adolescence. This could be used to encourage young people to vote carelessly which would grab the attention of politicians quickly. Let young people know that it is acceptable that they are unaware of the political issues, because current platforms do not address issues relevant to this age group. If a large percentage of young people voted without knowledge of the issues, then the entire electoral system would be motivated to educate this group as well as present them with the issues they feel are important. It becomes an economic situation then where our demand cannot be ignored because of our widespread participation.

Politicians will develop clever strategies to involve young people and we will not rely on any superimposed or artificial plan that attempts to encourage young people to vote. Many of the measures suggested in the premise of this essay are then unnecessary. This scheme could be realized by openly advertising this plan to young voters and by giving financial support to those young, motivated leaders that would encourage their peers to vote blindly to force the system to target young people and young issues. Ultimately, we are citizens with the same rights as older voters, therefore it is our responsibility to indicate that we wish to be represented. Representation is a right, not an automatic government service. We will vote when we realize that many people acting individually is how we get large voter response and therefore power. Young people need a demonstration of this power that they do not exercise. Once they see the effect on the system that a high voting percentage from the 18-25 age group has, then they will feel empowered. This is not a temporary solution either, because a prerogative will be established that will make it dangerous for a candidate not to address issues. Many people try to tell us as young people that we should be interested in particular issues, but the fact is that if we were interested, then we would participate. If we motivate the system to involve us then it will. Otherwise, the low percentage of young voters is an accurate indicator of the level of interest from this age group and should not be increased by anything less than true interest. However, to initially stimulate this interest, a radical scheme such as this may be necessary.

ASHLEY ROGERS
WAKE FOREST, NC
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Politics and voting treated as historical in classrooms, current political system not working for young people, role models

Since the phrase, "generation X" was coined to describe a culture of twenty-something's clad with tattoos and piercing, our society has been condemning young people for their apathy. These people seem to have lost their patriotism, and voting for an elected official is beyond their perception. The question is why. Why this unexplained leap in the lack of regard for politics? It is not that they don't care at all. After all, many college students are still involved in demonstrations for social reform. Having spoken to many unregistered voters, I have found that most 18-20 year olds hold the belief that if they don't vote, then they are allowed to complain because they took no part in the election of an inadequate politician.

Others are simply not aware of the whole process. For most students, the first thing that crosses one's mind after turning 18 is not voting. They think of the cigarettes they can buy now, or the "R" movie they didn't get to see last summer that they now can. And why not? Voting is not mentioned in our schools. Teachers preach endlessly about the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. They talk for days about the presidents and senators of the past. But they never relate it to today. Politics are taught as a thing of the past, history which exists only in textbooks. I have had not one teacher speak to the class about how our opinion makes a difference if we only express it. Not one lesson about where we register to vote, when we register to vote, or how to keep ourselves informed. The first key to heightening the interest of the young people is by educating them about voting itself and how to create change, not just the system which already exists.

Another possibility for keeping the youth culture interested is to appeal more to their interests. If politicians want to gain the vote of the students, they must pay attention to what is most important to them: school. By enforcing education reform, students will start to pay attention. Politicians can promise all they want, but when one is walking down the crowded hallway on a rainy day, trying to avoid the buckets set up to catch the rain, not to mention the teachers on carts wheeling all their teaching supplies from one room to the next, it is hard to believe any promises made. If a student can get his hopes up that he will be able to attend a school with more than adequate facilities and then have those hopes acknowledged, it will command his attention.

If the community interests children from the beginning of their education, I believe they will be more likely to vote as seniors in high school. In North Carolina, children age seventeen and under are allowed to participate in the children's vote. It is not counted along with the adult's vote, but it is tallied and reported in the newspaper. By doing this, children feel like they are being recognized as adults, and that people are listening to their opinions. When it comes time for these children to turn eighteen, I would suspect that there would be a higher number of registered voters among them.

Adults not setting a good example for their children is one more factor to take into consideration. Perhaps the general public should stop looking to the youth for answers and start looking to the adults who raised them. The adults who didn't vote and only badmouth the government. The adults who didn't bother to register because they hadn't been taught their opinion mattered, either. Children model the behavior of their parents, and if politics aren't made out to be important, they won't be to that child. This is why the school system needs to further educate these children who aren't getting the influence they need in order to care about their country's politics.

In gaining the interest of young people, the obvious road to take is recognition. Recognition of their goals, their opinions, their doubts and their interests. This doesn't apply only to politics. Children sink into depression everyday because they don't feel recognized. When an adult takes interest in a child, they take interest in the adult. If a politician takes interest in a student, the student will take interest in the politician. And if a parent or any other adult role model sets a good example by caring about the country and voting, that child will follow that behavioral example and do likewise.

LORI E SANDERS
CHARLOTTE, NC College student
Born: 1980

Essay themes: Get more young people involved by treating them like adults

The greatest aspect of our country is the diversity found within its boundaries. At the same time, the greatest downfall of our country is the use of stereotypes to describe the groups who make this country so diverse. Being a teenager has given me a first hand look at age stereotypes. Our government has policies against sexist and racial degradation, but they have no policy that helps teenagers defend themselves against the downfalls associated with their age. There will be no improvement in young people's participation in politics unless we are treated like the rest of adult society.

The legal age to vote in the United States is 18; at this age one is classified, according to the law, as an adult. Granted, 18 years old, for some, is too young to accept adult responsibility due to a lack of maturity. Is it really fair to let these few give the majority who are mature and responsible a bad reputation? I believe that most teenagers are competently able to make many important decisions, especially ones concerning their life, such as their education and future. For example, a teenager may decide whether or not they want to attend college. If these decisions are so important, why should they not be treated as equals to adults? Such stereotypes as immature, irresponsible, wild, rebellious, mentally unstable, financially unsure, and too young, are words that if you asked yourself, you've probably used once before. I have personally seen a police officer become biased to the adult in the instance of catching a teenager or a peer who, at the same time, are speeding equally fast. This teenager, for example, probably has a cooler looking, "just like a teenager" car. But has that police officer stopped to think that the teenager takes pride in their car, and has put forth that much effort to make it look cool? No, here is what the law enforcement is thinking, "this is a 'wild, young punk' who defies authority and I should be the one to put him in his place."

That is not fair to the teenager, when the adult was breaking the same law. Another stereotype that has only been introduced recently, is that teenage boys are frustrated with life and therefore are a threat to the community. I do not see it as fair to say that all teenage boys who are quiet and unpopular are possibly obsessed with burning down their school or wanting to kill everyone in it. In my case, I'm glad I didn't grow up as a boy because I was extremely quiet and reserved. This was only because I was naturally shy; I did not hate life and those in it. However, "the adult" may see me as wanting to destruct something because of my reserve. How can one be an expert on knowing how the child brain works when they cannot get into it to really see what the person is thinking? I despise the child psychologists who appear on talk shows and claim that all teenage boys who lack the male role model at home or who never socialize are capable of destruction beyond our comprehension. I know one male, who is very close to me, who grew up with no father and is the most logical, sensible person I know. It is wrong to place him in this category. I see no advancement in a teenager's urge to be involved in politics when these kinds of stereotypes stare them in the face each day.

Why is there no teenage representation in congress? How can the government say that all men are created equal when the 18-year-old adult is not allowed to express their own opinions and have them recognized by the greater authority? Allowing them to vote does not give them a feeling that their opinions matter when their candidate loses. They only give up and decide not to participate because they feel they are not making a difference. Adults have placed young people in this position by not showing that they genuinely care about their input. There is nothing worse for me than to feel like I am powerless in my community. If you are looking for a way to get young people more involved, the only way to change the system is to let the youth in, make them feel important, and don't stereotype them because of the actions by a select few. It takes a very shallow mind to call me immature, mentally unstable, or too young. I am a part of the American community and I would like to one day, actually feel like that matters to some people.

VANESSA STREETER
CARY, NC
High school student
Born: 1982

Essay theme: Education
Increasing the Political Involvement of Young People

There are many changes that could be made that would bring more voting involvement from young people. For one, more information could be made available to young people in high school. If teenagers were learning about politics and finding out about candidates, then when they were of voting age, they would be more inclined to vote. Not only that, but maybe their interests would be sparked and they would want to be actively involved in politics, such as running for office one day. If young people were made aware of resources that are available, they might be involved in politics sooner in life. Then when they became of voting age, they would participate more actively. This is why I believe that early involvement and awareness will ultimately be the successful way to boost involvement of young people.

My generation wants to be involved in politics. Politics affects us, too. There is, however, not a very encouraging support network for our involvement. If we are taken seriously and allowed to become involved now, then we will be more likely to participate later in life. I think one stumbling block is that when young people express an interest in politics, they are not taken seriously and told to wait to be involved until they are older and have more understanding. This is very discouraging. We would never be told to wait until we are older to understand algebra or English. Politics are just as important as academic subjects are, so why not let us learn? Let us help canvas for a candidate, if possible; let us find out about school boards, mayors, governors, etc; let us find out what resources are available to us. Not only is this how we will learn, but this is how our interests will be sparked.

Another major problem is that young people are just not interested in politics. If the changes I have discussed were made, then I believe you would see a major change in the involvement of young people in politics. Kids Voting is a curriculum that is available for teachers to use in the classroom to teach children and teenagers about voting and about researching a candidate. This, I believe, would be a solution to the problem mentioned above. There is one problem with this curriculum, though. The Kids Voting curriculum is not widely used. I work with teens from 3 major high schools in my town and the first time that anyone of these teens heard about Kids Voting is when they saw the display at the school where we work. It is unfortunate that such a good and readily available information resource is not being used. Do all teachers know about this curriculum? If they do know, are they given the choice to use it? Is the curriculum too juvenile to be used in high school? These are all questions that should be looked into, because if Kids Voting was implemented into high schools, political involvement from young people might rise. I do not think that lowering voting age would help at all. Because I am a teenager in high school myself, I know that voting is something that I look forward to doing when I turn 18. I would not have been ready earlier to make a good judgment about a candidate. Lowering the voting age would bring young, inexperienced people into the voting arena. This is not something that anyone would want. The government wants more young people to be involved in politics. If the voting age were lowered, then teenagers who are unable to make mature decisions about day-to-day life would be voting. I do not think that targeting this group would be beneficial to the voting process. The people who vote should be old enough to be capable of making wise and mature choices in most areas of their lives.

Voting by mail, e-mail, or on the Internet may possibly bring a small portion of young voters, but not a significant amount. These would be convenient ways to vote, but if someone is not knowledgeable about or does not care about politics, then ultimately no significant change will be made. Election Day voter-registration may bring more young people to vote. Sometimes, young people have done their research, but they have not yet registered. Sometimes, young people get dates mixed up and realize that they have not yet registered. For these reasons, I believe Election Day voter registration would be a great benefit.

In conclusion, my opinion is that bringing awareness to children at a young age is the best way to increase the involvement of young voters in politics. The reasons above clearly explain this view. If young people are not brought into the awareness of how important our government is and how important their involvement is, then they will not see any reason to be involved. I believe that if these principals are brought into practice, then our nation will see a great increase in the involvement of young people in politics. One possible solution would be to find out how to implement Kids Voting into the high school curriculum during election times. Maybe the curriculum needs to be rewritten. Other solutions would be to ask teens how they would like to be involved in politics, have weekend workshops for teens to come to learn about government and the fine points of politics, and make sure that teens understand how important their vote will be when they are of voting age. These are just some of the possible solutions to the problem. I hope that one day I can be a part of making changes in our voting system.


LARRY ZHAO
FAYETTEVILLE, NC
High school student
Born: 1982

Essay themes: Required debates between all candidates, Internet voting, increasing the number of election days

Today political participation by young people is, in fact, decreasing, and we need to make changes in our electoral system that would increase the participation. Making changes is very important to me because without electing the best, competent leader, our government would not function effectively. Other people should care about encouraging young people to engage in politics because young people are the politicians of the future. If we do not develop some young people into politicians, then future government of the United States would be weaker, and eventually this country may be governed by anarchism. Presently the US is the most powerful country in the world, and to maintain this status, we need to have strong leaders. Therefore we need to encourage young people to engage in political events. To promote political participation by young people, we need to have required debates between all candidates for office, Internet voting, and extending election days.

Having required debates between all candidates for office would be a great idea to boost political participation by young people. Often people ignore candidates who they do not know, but this event would give young people a chance to hear what every candidate has to say. After hearing the debates, young people will surely find a candidate who agrees with their views. By agreeing with one of the candidates, young people would be motivated to choose their favorite leader. If more and more young people hear the debates, then there would be a rise in political participation by them. Although the debates may take a long time, it is a worthwhile event because each person's vote is very important. Often times people neglect the importance of their vote, but through hearing the debates and taking a stand, people can make a difference.

Not only would required debates between all candidates for office be encouraging, but Internet voting would also increase political participation by young people because it would allow young people to vote easier. There is a growing number of people who use computers, and because of this increase, more and more young people can use them to vote. Internet voting saves a huge amount of time. Since many young people do not have much time due to school and extracurricular activities, fast Internet voting would encourage them to vote. Going to the voting booth might be a burden for young people, but with the Internet, they do not have to ever worry about time. The computer has become a part of life for most people, and so people should be able to do more than just surfing the web.

Although the Internet would be very busy on Election Day due to a high number of people it, the next suggestion would lessen the problem. To make the Internet run faster and put more pressure off young people, we can make Election Day last for up to five days. This way would give young people more chances to vote, and they would not feel that the only time they can vote is on Election Day. One day is not enough because if the person were very busy that day, then he or she would not be able to vote in that year. We really need to extend Election Day the year that we elect a new president because president is the most important position in US government. The president has many powers such as enforcing laws and appointing people to other government leadership positions. Without a competent president, this country would become very weak.

Indeed political participation by young people is dropping, but we do not have to worry yet. However, we do need to make changes in the electoral system to encourage political participation by young people. With required debates between all candidates for office, Internet voting, and more number of election days, political participation by young people would certainly increase.