received thoughtful and memorable essays from around the nation.
Following are comments from some of the many strong essays that
did not win but had important things to say. Those quoted
"Our generation, being burned by broken promises and dysfunctional
families, cries out for real leadership and family and community
values and wants to be treated as individuals, not products
to be used up and discarded. Today's young people, or the X
generation, are media-driven and have an insatiable appetite
for information, which has not been met by the political system.
Since X'ers are interested in direct forms of democracy, different
rules and new methods are needed to obtain their support."
"Our political heroes are shallow images of their forefathers
who either can't spell integrity and honor, or don't practice
them. You challenge us to become more politically involved,
to propose changes in the electoral process that will persuade
us to flex our political clout. I challenge you to give us intelligent
reasons why we would want to. At one time, politics was a time-honored
and revered profession that allowed honest, hard-working and
respected individuals the opportunity to represent their communities,
states and ultimately their country."
"Young people need to feel like they are a part of something,
that they can make a change. They need to become involved with
their community first. A person cannot help others if they cannot
help themselves. There should be some sort of community participation
by an individual when they are young. If they don't start young
then they won't pick up until they are more aware of the problems
at hand. It's just like a sport, the younger you learn the better
you will be when you grow up."
"Not only is education related to participation, the more
educated a particular voter is, it can be assumed, the more
informed the individual's vote will be. Participation and quality
of education is a function of available resources. Resource
allocation for education is provided mainly by the local school
district by way of individual property assessments and the subsequent
property tax base. To date, education finance reform has occurred
in only seventeen states, yet the implementation of such judicial
reform has stalled in the legislative branches of many of these
state capitals. Thus, it is in my opinion that the first step
towards improving voter participation is to reform a rather
inequitable and often inadequate education financing arrangement."
"Welcome to Dowersville, Texas. Yesterday was Election Day
in Dowersville and our federal representative to Congress was
elected by one vote. Today, Adam Dowager, the new representative,
called a press conference to discuss his plans and goals as
our representative. Mr. Dowager announced that he would push
to cut financial aid to college students by seventy-five percent
which would cut down on the number of students in college allowing
those that could afford it the best possible education. Now,
Dowersville is home to Dowersville State College, which would
lose almost half of its enrollment under Mr. Dowager's plan.
How did this happen? Well, Dowersville has almost one hundred
thousand people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five,
yet, only ten thousand were registered to vote and of those
registered only 337 voted."
"Participation in politics is also a matter of convenience.
Election Day as a holiday would bring more people to the polls.
Also, if the opportunity to register at the polls was available,
I think that would encourage more participation."
"Young people are participating less and less in the politics
of our country. The big question in political circles is: Why?
As a young person who rarely votes, I think I understand a few
of the reasons. First, however, I shall start with what are
NOT the reasons. Some people believe in the myth of inconvenience.
These people are attempting to reform voting in such ways as
turning the Election Day into a holiday, allowing Internet voting,
and creating greater accessibility to candidates of independent
and third parties. It is true; these reforms would make voting
more convenient. However, inconvenience is a problem for all
age groups alike: it does not explain low voter turnout in the
youngest age group. Others believe that lowering the voting
age would encourage more young people to vote. I believe this
is a quick-fix to a perennial problem. I predict that the voter
turnout would increase slightly and then return to its downward
trend. Why? This is attempting to fix the effects and not the
cause of the problem. Younger voters might vote for the novelty
of the experience, then begin to slack off for the same reason
the current young voters are not voting. The cause is this:
lack of knowledge."
"The first change that should be made to the electoral system
is to proclaim Election Day a national holiday. This would encourage
young people to vote in elections by providing a day off from
their busy schedules and allowing them to participate in our
democracy's most important political process. This would also
remind the youthful electorate and all other willing electoral
participants to vote. This change would create an enormous increase
in the level of participation by young people as well as all
other voters. A workable solution would be to move Election
Day to the second Tuesday of November and combine it with Veterans'
Day, traditionally celebrated on November 11. This would send
a powerful signal to the citizens of our country about the importance
of voting. And what better way to honor those who fought for
our freedom and democratic rights than for Americans to exercise
their suffrage rights on what could become known as 'Veterans'
"Unfortunately, the voting rights of African-American men
have become yet another casualty in the nation's long and misguided
war on drugs. Studies have shown that out of 10.4 million eligible
black males 1.4 have been disenfranchised due to felony convictions.
Laws mandating the revocation of voting rights were established
the same time that literacy tests and poll taxes were being
used to prevent blacks from voting. ACLU Legislative Counsel
Mark Kappelhoff pointed out that 'laws that target voting, one
of the most fundamental features of our participatory democracy
undercut everything for which this country stands.' Its time
Congress mandates this law to allow the punishment to fit the
crime. The implications of this law are totally unfair to those
people who turn their lives around for the better."
"In December of 1999, millions of individuals came to Seattle,
Washington to protest the globalization of the economy and protest
the ideas presented by the World Trade Organization. Whether
their protest was justified or not, the reason why this protest
was so significant was that millions arrived in Seattle because
the ideas quickly spread over the Internet. It was convenient
for millions to get the information by just clicking a mouse
instead of going to the library or using the phone. But the
convenience of the Internet can be used to the advantage of
the Federal Government in spreading the word of mouth about
"Our current electoral process is outdated, not responsive
to current day needs, and should be replaced with a multiparty
system. Because the X generation sees both Republicans and Democrats
as devoid of leadership that actually stands and delivers on
promises, they are more likely to respond to independent political
candidates. This tendency was clearly shown in the 1998 election
of Governor Jesse Ventura, a political dark horse seen as challenging
the status quo, who actively informed and sought the participation
of young people."
"At what point does democratic America fail? When does she
loose her ability to govern? Only when her subjects loose faith
in her principles. Only when her subjects no longer feel the
need to participate in her existence. Abraham Lincoln once said
of America's fate that 'If destruction be our lot we must be
its authors and finishers.' He was referring to the Civil War
not voter participation, but his sentiments echo through the
corridors of time. If we as young Americans refuse to stand
and take our responsibility as Americans and if those in power
do not do something to change the structure of our voting system
we are surely domed. How can our nation survive as we know it
with only a small percentage of the population voting. When
the responsibility is kept in the hands of the few, the hands
of the many will soon think those of the voting minority to
be tyrants -- and their policies tyranny."
"Another option is to legislate that every presidential candidate
is required to campaign at a designated number of college campuses
around the country. Each candidate would visit randomly chosen
universities from every region of the nation. College campaigning
would ensure that young people receive enough attention and
their issues are addressed."
"The way to solve the problem of voter apathy and poor political
participation among young voters is all in the timing. Bestowing
the vote upon citizens on their eighteenth birthday is not working.
If the voting age were lowered to age sixteen, we could use
the school system to first, combat the problem of uninformed
voters, second, provide the basic motivation necessary to compel
people to vote, and finally, be able to produce generations
of voters who are more socially responsible and civically active."
"Newton's Law of Gravity explicitly says it all, 'Once an
object is in motion, it will stay in motion until acted on by
an outside force.' I say that we take a little piece of this
advice and swing it our way, and let the downfall in voting
relinquish itself, and it will do that by 'an outside force.'
This force, or reform, can consist of many things. The achievement
of all of them, is to find an optimal voting percentage from
"So there my friends and I stood, listening to John McCain
tell us about his vision for America, asking our opinions and
giving us his, telling us that we need to get involved. After
all, he reminded us, 'It's your future.' From that moment on,
realizing that the guy really cared about youth, and agreeing
with him on reforming campaigns, I knew whom I had to support
in 2000. Later that day I took a job chairing the national teen
effort for McCain's campaign. It's that easy, really. Just find
a candidate with whom you can see eye?to?eye, support him, and
vote for him. That is what our generation needs to realize in
order to become involved in our political system: that one person,
one voice, can make all the difference in the world.
"How can the government let the young voters know that their
vote will amount to something? By proportional representation
- a fundamental structured reform that would make American elections
more fair, provide voters with more meaningful choices, and
produce legislatures that are more truly representative of the
public. In contrast, the plurality system that the United States
currently has is designed to insure representation only for
the majority of the voters. Only those who vote for the winning
candidate get any representation in this system. Everyone else
is considered losers who do not merit representation. Their
vote is worthless because it cannot serve to elect anyone to
represent them. Under the plurality rules you have the right
to vote, but not the right to be represented. Maybe that is
why many young voters do not vote. We feel as though our candidate
has no chance of winning, so why vote? If the government were
to choose a better alternative such as proportional representation
many young voters would go to the polls on Election Day. Proportional
representation is designed to insure that all voters are able
to elect their own representatives, and to guarantee that all
city, state, and federal legislatures accurately reflect the
variety and strength of the political perspectives."
"Lowering the voting age to at least 16 presents itself as
an advantage because almost all of the issues which are being
voted on have an effect on young people. For example, in the
city where I live, there was a vote on whether or not to establish
three new casinos in the downtown area. When three new casinos
are built for people to attend and try their luck, one can almost
guarantee that some of the people who attend have children.
If someone gambles away just a bit more than they need to, that
means that money that may have been needed for groceries or
rent and other necessities ends up in casino owners' pockets.
Therefore, the children will suffer. Who says only people 18
and older are affected by these issues?"
"I firmly believe that the fact that so many young people
don't vote is a symptom of a lethargic society. Yes, Americans
are lazy in some respects. We don't feel like a nation at one
anymore. We are all so into ourselves, everyone is glued to
their computer, television, and video games because they make
us feel safe. So many people are living life in the fast lane
and aren't seeing the reality of the state of our nation or
of the world."
"I can remember how surprised my U.S. History class was when
we were taught about the Electoral College. We could hardly
believe that many of the things that we believed to be undemocratic
were used in our own presidential voting system. Learning about
the Electoral College can be enough for most people to loose
faith in presidential elections in this country. The drop in
the number of young voters can be attributed to our lack of
faith in the system that we are being asked to partake in."
"Having witnessed the September 1998 German Bundestag Elections,
I then watched from abroad the U.S. 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?"
"The initiative and referendum measures so common in the western
states allow the political process to proceed at the wishes
of the citizenry. Power is restored to the people and the wishes
of the people put forth for vote. It should be made impossible
for their votes to _way that we can take power without having
millions of dollars at our disposal. All I ask is that if you
expect us to take part in your games, that you at least give
us a fair voice, and allow us to take the opportunities that
we have been promised so many times before."
"If online voting is implemented I am convinced that by the
next millennium, American citizens will be talking about this
ancient phenomenon called they Internet and how it revolutionized
"In view of the decreased political participation of young
adults, it is necessary to take action in order to ensure a
continuation of the democratic tradition in the United States.
Like most other values, democratic participation is primarily
taught in the home, passed on from generation to generation.
Once a generation is lost an endless string of future generations
can miss the opportunity to serve their part in the political
system of the United States. Immediate action is needed to alleviate
the problem before it grows into a great rift. Because of the
highly independent nature of the American citizen a government
effort would me met with distrust. Efforts to forcibly bring
voters into the booths would be met with popular and constitutional
resistance. The action has to be of the passive aggressive,
of the 'build and they will come' type."
"If the goal is to increase political participation, the solution
seems simple. In Australia, voting is absolutely mandatory.
If Australian citizens do not vote, they are fined. This seems
like a practical law to uphold. All citizens should be held
accountable for what occurs within their country. If they do
not vote, who will? The youth are especially responsible since
one day, they will be the ones leading the same country and
making important decisions."
"It may be sad to some people that young people do not think
voting is important enough to spend a Saturday morning at the
Town Hall, registering to vote, or spend ten dollars Fed-Exing
in a ballot that was sent out to late by a careless error. Speaking
for myself, as well as many others who feel the same as I do,
it is not that we are apathetic, or stupid, or hate politics.
I feel very strongly that voting is absolutely necessary for
the continued success of democracy. However, voting is just
not as accessible to us as it is for the retired people of my
town, who can devote themselves to playing games with the government
in order to get that little scrap of paper. I just want to walk
up to the table, get my ballot, and vote. Or, better yet, take
a few minutes out from writing a paper to vote online. If you
clear the barriers, more people, and especially young people,
"I was 21 years old, and the thought of voting had completely
slipped my mind. If it hadn't been for Mr. Robinson's phone
call, I would've gone a year without making a difference, without
anybody knowing what my true opinion was. I was quite thankful
that Mr. Robinson was passionately involved with politics that
he cared to give me a phone call to remind me to voice my opinion.
Youth need someone like Mr. Robinson to remind him or her that
it is time to cast a ballot."
"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 businessmen,
lawyers, and military leaders.
"Even though the registration process is already fairly simple, it is still not easy enough for some people to find the time to register. Often times, many people forget to register until it is too late, resulting in a decrease of participation. If registration and voting on Election Day over the Internet were allowed, many people who would not normally register or vote would be more likely to do so. Online voting and registration would allow people to be able to both register and vote without leaving their home or office." - Amanda L. Sheran, a college student from Blandford, MA
"Analysts and politicians can make as many changes to the
voting system as they want; however, the numbers of young voters
will not significantly increase unless the root problem is solved.
How can we restore meaning to our culture? Young people will
vote without urging when they feel that their lives and their
world have a purpose. Until then, leave them alone. Why bring
in busloads of people to punch random dots on ballots? Will
that improve the content of the suit that interrupts our show?
It merely muddies the water and might have devastating impact
on the election process. As informed voters, we should rather
them not vote at all. If we leave at home the people who have
no idea what the candidates stand for, we are left with only
the people who appreciate and revere the privilege afforded
us by the brave men and women who earned for us the right to
vote. People, regardless of their party or political views,
are voting because they are hoping to change the world for the
better. Until the young people of this country find a reason
to vote, do the rest of us a favor, and don't encourage them.
To do so cheapens the precious gift of liberty and the lives
of those who died for it."
"Politicians and campaign managers work nearly exclusively
within the tried and true aspects of politics, addressing the
same issues time and again. There is a newness to the young
voters, however, and an entirely different political agenda
that accompanies this newness. The traditional issues are not
necessarily at the forefront of young minds, and will not stir
them to voice their opinions. Yes, the budget deficit is decreasing,
and that is a good thing, but why has Tibet not gained more
freedom? Why are alternative fuels, or even alternative lifestyles
brushed aside by political tycoons--the majority rule. Often
the ideas of youth are brushed aside and rarely offered the
protection of representation. We are not the majority, and the
reaction to our opinions reflects this."
"Most youth feel that local, state, and national politicians
do not speak to them, and they have good reason to feel that
way. Why should a politician waste his time campaigning for
votes that will never be cast? My generation, which seems to
eschew responsibility for itself, generally allows its parents
to shape the political landscape of the country. Great and monumental
decisions that will dramatically affect our future are being
made without us."
"If the youth do not express their ideas and goals that should
be accomplished by society, consequentially, the leaders of
this country will strive for goals whose are not those of the
"Gerrymandering in a very serious problem. This entails redrawing
the district boundaries to give a political advantage. The political
tactic creates two very harmful problems: 1. it leads to a lack
of competition, which then leads to a lack of participation,
and 2. this creates safe districts, which also leads to a lack
of competition among parties and participants, but also among
the voters. If the race for office is not a fair and close race
the voters become less involved. I truly feel that this tactic
is extremely damaging to the voting decline among the youth
and the rest of the United States. The lack of competition and
excitement lose the attention of the people. Let's face it,
does one vote really matter in a landslide political campaign?"
"The United States is a country of freedom and comfort, so
it's natural to examine each possible way the government could
conform to the needs of our rapidly changing society. This method
has been the primary cause for our advancement, yet this time
we may find the solution elsewhere. What could cause a 90% voter
turnout without dipping any further into the national deficit?
Australia and Belgium have the answer: impose a tax penalty
on non-voters. Both have a voter turnout that normally exceeds
95%, due to their participation in this method. Since this approach
clearly has tax-like ramifications it may not bode well in the
U.S., but our society needs to welcome an idea such as this;
however punitive it may seem, it's for our own good."
"Same-day registration would limit the negative consequences
of young people changing their state residences because they
are entering the professional world, or going to school out
of state. Furthermore, same-day registration would allow newly
eligible voters to register and cast their ballot in one stroke,
subsequently leading more young people to the polls."
"One of the many reasons that many believe their vote doesn't
make a difference is the electoral process. Many people do not
understand how the Electoral College works and would rather
have something less complex. If popular vote decided the election,
more people would vote. They would see the raw numbers, something
they can relate to, instead of electoral votes from each state."
"The main cause of voting apathy among this younger population
is their obliviousness to the impact issues like federal funding
has on them. It is no surprise that without incentive there
is a lack of motivation to get to the poles. Nonetheless, is
it a lack of motivation, or ignorance and unawareness?"
"One place though that you will almost always find a young
person is at school. I question why there isn't access to voting
places at colleges or even high schools. This is important to
me because of the fact that I am so busy. I think that it would
be easier for me to vote if I didn't have so far out of the
way to go. Sometimes in order to reach a younger person you
have to be standing right in front of them so they have to run
into you to notice you."
"When people have registered to vote and have understood the
whole process of how to vote, the next obstacle that stops many
people is what or who to vote for. Unfortunately the details
of many issues, bills, or candidates are unknown to the voters.
Many voters simply cannot find the time to find out such details
and therefore do not vote.... What can the solution for this
problem be then? Simple explanations of the candidates, the
bills, and the issues can be sent by mail. While not everyone
has e-mail yet (electronic voting would not require an e-mail
address) and not everyone has an answering machine, almost everyone
has an address where conventional mail can be received....Through
this simple system the problems of people not knowing who or
what to vote for can be avoided and voter turnout, especially
among young adults who have yet to discover much of the world's
issues, bills and candidates, can be increased."
"Among the many democracies of the world, the United States
stands out as the original experiment in modern democracy. The
experiment has succeeded remarkably well without major reform;
much of this success can be attributed to a Constitution that
has heretofore provided a just and adaptable framework for popular
government. However, discrepancies in the American system have
arisen. Voter turnout is dropping rapidly as Americans suffer
a growing sense of alienation from the political process; this
trend is markedly disturbing among young adults, only 32% of
whom voted in the 1996 presidential elections. Many analysts
and activists have attributed this embarrassing percentage to
a political order that seems more responsive to the contributions
of wealthy special interests than to the wishes of the average
voter, hence the recent push for campaign finance reform. This
is only part of the story, however. The United States political
scene is becoming increasingly stagnant as incrementalist politicians
pursue visions of mediocrity and the mere absence of popular
disapproval; the concerns of many facets of society, including
young adults, are thereby often neglected. American democracy
must evolve with the convictions of the electorate."