The Winning Essays

We received nearly 9,000 entries in our Why Don't We Vote essay contest. Many young people wrote sincerely and thoughtfully about why their generation includes so many non-voters. We thank each and every participant. As voted on by our panel of judges, the winners of course deserve special congratulations. Here are their essays, preceded by biographical information.

Grand Prize Winner: Leila Rouhi
Best College Entry: Jim Fung
Best High School Entry: Matthew Carlson
Runner-up College: Amanda Ponzar
Runner-up High School: Rozalina Grubina
Honorable Mentions: Shaun M. Filiault, Carl Folson, Megan Rosell, Warwick Sabin, Christina Stone, Emily Talmage, Heather Turner, Karmin Tyack


College student
Born: 1979

Leila Rouhi is currently a senior at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She is majoring in Economics and Politics, and planning to attend law school following graduation. Her home is in Los Angeles, California. [Photo by Amy Hoak, Medill News Service]

Political inactivity on the part of young Americans stems from one fundamental source -- a general cynicism of the American political process. This disdain for politics is further perpetuated by a lack of voter education and a needlessly archaic voting procedure that creates barriers to voting where they need not exist. While many of these existing problems can be rectified with relative ease through the implementation of programs such as Internet voting and better voter education, such programs create only a partial solution.

It will take great strides to create a system in which American citizens will be represented in the political process, and only then will young Americans be truly compelled to vote. One way to achieve this goal is through the adoption of a system of proportional representation. This paired with the implementation of Internet voting, increased voter education, and same day voting will ensure a rise in voter turnouts and youth participation in government.

Regardless of the political environment, it is the responsibility of voters to take initiative in becoming politically involved. However, the current electoral system in the United States is not one that fosters voter participation, but instead often discourages voting altogether. This is evidenced through the lackluster voter turnout in the United States, which is amongst the lowest of any democratic nation. While it is convenient to blame this lack of democratic participation on a lazy and apathetic public, the root of the problem lies elsewhere. The current system of winner-take-all elections, strategic gerrymandering, incumbency advantage and governmental unresponsiveness to constituent desires is enough to deter even the most politically conscience person from voting. For many young voters, the realization that their vote is likely to have little impact on the outcome of elections, not surprisingly, prevents them from becoming involved in the electoral process altogether. Only through the removal of these systemic flaws, which cause skepticism about the importance of voting, will voter participation be increased and democracy better achieved.

One alternative voting procedure that will alleviate the lack of voter participation is proportional representation (PR). Through the implementation of a PR system, the voice of more American voters can be heard-and a more representative government created. The exorbitant amount of wasted votes that exist under today's system will be greatly reduced. The lower threshold of votes needed to elect a candidate under PR will allow smaller groups to elect representative officials more in tune with their political philosophy without the having to constitute the majority of the voting body. This also translates into the vote of each person carrying a greater weight, thus giving that person more of an incentive to become involved in the political process. By providing a greater number of people voting incentives, paired with the increased likelihood that third-party candidates can be voted in, PR insures a more representative government that will better serve the American people.

Furthermore, PR will eliminate much of the opportunity to predetermine elections through the mastery of gerrymandering, again allowing for a more accurately representative government. The system of majority rule is far too static to be adequate for the dynamic needs of the American people, and especially American youth. Proportional representation, on the other hand, allows for the evolution of American thought by creating a governing body that will change with the electorate, rather than one that continually alienates voters by ignoring their demands.

Providing a more representative system is the first measure in ensuring that young Americans will take part in the electoral process, but the adoption of PR alone is not enough. Americans, starting from a young age, need to be better educated about the political process and the issues that they will face as voters. The ideological platform of various parties should be introduced to student, so that when they come of voting age they have the background to vote for the parties that will best represent their interests. The better-informed youth are about the facts of issues, the more informed a decision they could make during elections.

Education of youth about political matters, then, will prevent them from voting based on propaganda and buzzwords and force them to focus on the reality of the issues at hand. Furthermore, educating young Americans about political issues will not only instill the importance of voting in the minds of future generations, but will also help in getting older Americans to participate in elections. Just as parents can educate their children, children too can educate their elders about the need for political participation, encouraging them to vote. With all of these benefits, it is clear that the education of youth in electoral issues should be given more emphasis. Being informed about the effects of existing legislation, the process of running for office and the current political events are as important as learning about literature and chemistry, and should be regarded as so.

Greater ease in casting ballots will also aid in increasing voter participation. While the entire nation has made phenomenal strides in technological advance, it seems that methods of voting have not been improved. While the Internet has the potential to provide a great deal of ease for voters, allowing them to vote from the comfort of their home or even from a dorm room seven states away, the possibilities of Internet voting are not being even remotely utilized. States should begin to offer Internet voting and registration as a supplement to already existing options. For those that do not own a computer, vote by mail can also be a plausible and indispensable alternative.

Americans are often told that every vote counts but unfortunately in today's system this is false, and a great deal of our votes count for nothing at all. By implementing proportional representation, however, America as a nation will be moving towards actually making every vote count and every perspective heard. Proportional representation, if used in conjunction with programs to increase voter awareness and voting ease, will ensure a more politically involved youth and a more democratic democracy.


College student
Born: 1979

Jim Fung was born on December 30, 1979, in Taipei, Taiwan, and immigrated to California with his parents in 1982. Growing up in the "Golden State", he discovered quite early that it matters who has money to influence the political process and who votes and doesn't vote. In the summer of 2000, he worked as a community organizer for the St. Louis chapter of ACORN, helping to get a living wage initiative passed. He is a junior majoring in economics at UC Berkeley, with an expected minor in public policy. He is active in the Students for Nader club on campus. Other interests include the grittily realistic British soap opera "EastEnders" and the long-running British science-fiction series "Doctor Who."

Youth are disillusioned with politics for many of the same reasons that our parents are. If lobbyists and campaign contributors did not have more access to public officials than do regular citizens; if economic democracy in the workplace existed alongside what some would call the "illusion" of political democracy; if elected officials acted more on "bread and butter" economic issues, such as the increasing concentration of wealth and the lack of health insurance for many Americans, than on expanding the prison population and on the military -- most people of all ages would consider their votes much more meaningful.

Some who never voted might even vote for the first time. Other forms of political participation -- such as attendance at local government meetings, involvement in interest groups, protest marches, petition-signing, and boycotts -- would also increase, as citizens discovered that the "power of the people" could really make a difference. However, barring these changes above, changes to the electoral system can also increase voting and other political participation - even though taking the influence of money out of politics, via means such as public financing, would be much more likely to change legislative priorities and address voter cynicism.

Already, some young people have become much more active in politics recently. Here in California, Proposition 21, a supposed anti-crime initiative, would instead, many teenagers believe, greatly expand governmental authority to lock up their generation, particularly members of ethnic minorities. Whether or not they are right does not concern us here. What does concern us, however, is that many teenagers have responded to this perceived attack by forming groups such as the Third Eye movement and organizing youth wings of activist organizations like Critical Resistance. Young people have been at the forefront of consciousness-raising about P21 - for example, registering voters, and engaging in direct actions at the offices of those who contributed money to get P21 on the ballot.

The activists on this issue are but a small minority of California youth, but their energetic involvement's a significantly change from the usual. Their activism sheds light on how participation might be improved among young people overall. P21 activism shows that when an issue is at stake that directly affects young people, they will respond. I also recall hearing of mass youth protests against 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative on the ballot in 1996. These examples have limited wider applications, but they do suggest that initiatives - about specific policies rather than Tweedledee/dum politicians -- stoke more political participation. Expansion of initiative and referendum, otherwise known as "direct democracy," would thus be a good step - though only if, unlike currently, money did not determine placement of issues on the ballot and the outcome of votes on those issues. Also, information about the effects of the "pro" and "con" positions would have to be fairly and widely dispersed.

Young people should have acquired most of the education they need to make sound choices in elections by the age of 16; if they haven't, that is all the more reason why 16-to-18-year-olds need to be given the vote, to exercise their suffrage for better schools. Plus, from the example of active teenage political participation on many issues even when they don't have the vote, one can conclude that empowering teenagers with the vote would help them further in their political awakening and mobilization. Youth are already involved in fighting the WTO and on winning affordable housing for students, in addition to the issues mentioned previously. How much more active would we be if we all had the ballot?

Given this reality that youth tend to get most excited about issues rather than politicians, alternative electoral systems such as PR, IRV, cumulative voting, and easier third-party ballot access, would only succeed in stimulating us if the third parties involved were ideologically oriented or issues-based parties rather than crass vote-maximizers. The issues of these parties would also need to be relevant to daily life - rather than visions of pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Many of the third parties in America today already fit this bill, addressing issues like the environment, workers' rights, and healthcare. In addition, judging from the example of European democracies using PR, the presence of such a system tends to encourage ideological or issues-based parties. Thus, an alternative electoral system should be seriously considered.

Internet vote, same-day voter registration, and an Election Day holiday, would not, I believe, actually add new voters. Although these reforms would make voting more convenient, and would increase turnout in any given election, they would not increase the number of voters over time. Barriers to voting are not so high that a non-criminal person, who wants to vote, can't.

Unicameralism - only one chamber of Congress - and/or a parliamentary system would concentrate power in the hands of the party or parties in power at any given them. While this system would allow policy to be implemented faster, the advantage of checks and balances should not be denied. Young people might become politically involved because they would have a more direct impact, but perhaps at the cost of trampling on minority rights.

Shortening the period between elections and allowing recall of all elected officials would increase accountability to voters. These changes could spur much more enthusiasm on the part of the body politic. Another move increasing accountability would be expansion of the size of U.S. House, so that each congressman represented a smaller district.

But overall, reforms within the current system, in addition to being more likely to happen, could also attack cynicism better than any of these electoral alterations discussed above. Money is power; take money out of the electoral system, and you take away the corporations' power. Then representative democracy could really have a chance to work again. As the grass-roots support for Ammiano, Wellstone, and Ventura have shown, youth will respond with energy in the instances (currently far too rare) when they perceive a candidate to be free from the corporate taint. It is that simple.


High school student
Born: 1981

Matthew Carlson graduated from Monroe High School in Monroe, Washington in 2000 and is now attending Oberlin College. He is earning two degrees concurrently: a B.A. in philosophy and a B.Mus in tuba performance. He also has strong interests in sociology and political science.

An intrinsic element in the success of a democratic society is the willingness of the people to be self-governing. In modern America, to say that we have a government that is for, by, and of the people does not mean that each citizen is autocratic and simply 'takes the law into his or her own hands,' but rather that each citizen has the responsibility to actively participate in this large-scale experiment known as American Democracy. Therefore, the problem of declining voter participation is a serious one indeed.

Several reasons for this enigmatic conundrum of voter apathy have become apparent in recent years. In many presidential elections, numerous Americans have found themselves compromising their views and voting not for the candidate with whom they resonate best, but rather for the candidate who they dislike the least. This compromise that is forced upon the electorate is a result of the two-party system on which we rely for voting simplicity. Additionally, many voters are discouraged that their views are not represented by their elected government officials, and consequently, that they have no real power in their government. An anonymous Vermont farmer, when asked by an NPR reporter which presidential candidate he would be likely to vote for in the 2000 election, responded by stating that he honestly did not care who the president was because they were essentially all the same, and none of them would represent him effectively.

While American democracy is arguably the best system of government in the history of the world, it is far from perfect. In order to make this fragile experiment a long-term success, we must make fundamental changes to the statutes and processes that govern the workings of the government. These changes should include: the abolition of the Electoral College, a more simple process by which to register to vote, and proportional representation of partisan views in governing bodies.

The Electoral College is an institution of the Federal Government that has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished in order to promote democracy in the United States. At its conception, the Electoral College was considered necessary because it emphasized the rights of individual states and made the process of counting ballots less onerous. In a true federal system, the electorate should vote in national elections as citizens of the nation, as opposed to citizens of their respective states.

However, the winner-take-all system of the Electoral College that we currently use is not only non-federal, it is undemocratic as well. Since the popular vote is counted in each state individually, and the winner of each state receives all of that state's votes, it is theoretically possible for a candidate with a greater percentage of the popular vote to lose the election. The Electoral College effectively renders the votes of the state minority meaningless because the majority receives all of the Electoral College votes, as if the vote was unanimous in favor of one candidate. This is clearly not democratic. If the Electoral College were to be abolished, then all national elections could be based upon the popular vote of the national electorate; a true representation of the views of the nation.

Our current system of voter registration should be changed so that registration is a simpler, faster process in order to increase the level of voter participation. If the process of registering to vote were simpler, greater numbers of people would register and, consequently, vote. Online registration would be an excellent means by which to not only simplify the process, but increase its accessibility as well. Additionally, online registration would allow for faster processing speed. This lack of speed was problematic for me because I became eligible to vote on October 30, 1999, and registered soon after, but I was not yet eligible to vote in the November 3 State election.

Not only is a simpler means by which to register to vote needed, but a simpler means by which to vote is needed as well. Use of absentee ballots should be encouraged, and the encryption necessary to secure online ballots should be developed so that voting could be conducted electronically. If the above steps are taken in order to streamline the voting process, more people will be likely to vote because less effort will be required of them.

A proportional representation of partisan views in governing bodies would promote the expression of all views, and increase political participation among groups who currently feel as though they have no real voice in American government. It is with disdain that I view the makeup of my State and Federal Legislatures and notice that nearly every Senator and Representative is a member of either the Republican or Democratic Party. Does this mean that there is not even one percent (the group size that a Federal Senator theoretically represents) of the national electorate that holds views contrary to those of the Republicans and Democrats? Not one percent of registered voters are members of the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, or the Socialist Party?

Governmental representation of specific political parties should be proportional to the popular support of those parties. Instead of representing geographical regions, Federal and State representatives should represent the ideologies of the electorate. National representatives could represent a proportion of nation views, and State representatives could represent a proportion of state views. This would allow the views of minority parties to be not only expressed, but taken into account in the proceedings of the government as well. Many people, especially young people with less favored views, would be encouraged to vote because their vote actually would have the potential of representing their true ideology.

Democracy can only exist when the citizens of a democratic state are willing and able to take an active role in their government. If we can increase voter participation by eliminating the Electoral College, streamlining the voting process, and allowing for proportional representation of partisan views in our government, then these are critical means to a necessary end.


College student
Born: 1978

Amanda Ponzar works as a copywriter at Anderson Advertising in Sinking Spring, PA and has six years experience as a writer, editor and copywriter. She has published more than 60 articles in newspapers and magazines and won writing and art awards. Over the years, she has sung in nine choirs, won the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award, served as features editor and co-editor-in-chief of two small newspapers, and attended school overseas as a German exchange student. Amanda earned her English BA from Penn State (4.0 GPA) with classes in creative, advanced, newspaper and magazine writing. Her husband, Matthew, attends law school on a full scholarship and plans to run for office someday. She is a die-hard cat lover.

Politicians in America: Do You Want to Hear From Us?

We must make changes to the current system in order to incorporate young people into the political process. The media need to support more TV shows addressing political issues, candidates need to spend more time with youth, we need to move toward voting online, and if all else fails, implement a system of proportional representation.

On the local level, there are too many candidates and no way to get to know them. The majority of people never see who is running. Sometimes it seems like it doesn't even matter. My life goes on with low-paying jobs and high college loan debt no matter who's in office. I've seen Democrats and Republicans come and go, and the only thing that changes is the type of scandal in the White House. Strong media coverage and public debate provide the best means to distinguish between candidates. Broadcasting companies should contribute free airtime to every political candidate and hold "town hall" style meetings on every channel from MTV to ABC where TV viewers can call in with questions. Additionally, political candidates should make time to talk to students and should invite students and their parents to participate together in campaign events.

As soon as security issues are overcome, we need to move toward straw polls, primaries, and voting online. When I attended college near Chicago, I had to walk almost a mile to get to the nearest polling place. For many young people, especially those without access to transportation, the polling places are inaccessible. Online voting, then, is the key to harnessing the power of generation X and beyond. Already the Internet has become a useful resource and potent advertising tool for many political candidates. Until online voting becomes available, polling places should be moved to college campuses whenever possible, so that those who are old enough to die for their country will also be given better access to vote for it.

Seeing positive change enacted is empowering. Being personally involved in it is life changing. One of the best times of my life was freshman year in college when I worked for a local political candidate. We ate pizza and discussed his ideas, hung fliers on doorknobs, passed out flags at the polling place, and encouraged people to vote. On Election Day, I woke at six a.m. to vote before heading off to hang fliers. Having a personal stake in the election provided an added incentive to vote, and to care about the outcome. I felt that my vote mattered.

That is truly the crux of the issue. Young people must feel that their views are listened to and respected. In the February 2000 Miss USA pageant, contestants answered questions in press conference style. Yet, instead of focusing on important issues, the "reporters" asked an environmentally active contestant which of these should go on the endangered species list: high heels, g-strings, or bikini waxing? This is insulting to a young person's intelligence, especially one with serious concerns about the environment. By asking trivial questions, the Miss USA pageant sends a clear message to young people, especially young women, that their minds and opinions are not wanted. Partying, sex and leisure activities are all young people are expected to care about.

The messages sent by advertisers and the media almost insist that young people be frivolous, self-focused, and ignorant, i.e., Just spend your money at the mall and the movie theaters and we don't care what else you do. Many young people recycle, participate in youth groups or campus ministries, and are heavily involved in church, community, social and service organizations. We are ready to talk. Is anyone listening?

Politicians need to court the young. The college students and young adults of today will be the business owners and leaders of tomorrow. Because young people aren't taken seriously and their needs are ignored, many students become disillusioned with politics and apathetic in voting.

If the two major parties in our country continue to marginalize young people however, than we should consider moving to proportional representation. Our two-party system makes it difficult for an independent to get financial support to run a successful campaign. Proportional representation would promote more grass roots candidates, new ideas, and fewer career politicians. Proportional representation would also bolster minority representation and coalition building rather than party politics as usual. Racial minorities, religious groups, and other social institutions usually sidelined in the major campaigns would suddenly have access to the political system. We young people could even create our own political party and be assured at least one seat in congress or on city council. As John Stuart Mill said, "It is an essential part of democracy that minorities should be adequately represented. No real democracy, nothing but a false show of democracy, is possible without it."

Young people are the most powerful dormant subculture in today's voting populace. We are the sleeping giants, the unspoken voice. Although hounded by advertisers, politicians ignore us. John McCain is seeking to change that, assuring college students that he will listen to their concerns. He is not advocating ignoring the needs of others; rather, he is suggesting common-sense integration so that all ages are adequately represented. McCain's campaign, if successful, will demonstrate the power of young people and perhaps provide an incentive for other politicians to do likewise.

When it comes down to it, I care. I watch all the presidential and vice presidential debates, listen to the State of the Union, read the paper, and frequently publish letters to the editor about my concerns. Just like me, many young people around this country care desperately about their lives, goals, and future. We need someone to listen, support our issues, and prove to us that America wants to hear from young people


High school student
Born: 1982

Rozalina Grubina was born and raised in Latvia. While Latvia was still part of the USSR, her family enjoyed basic freedoms, but after 1991 they, along with other Jews and Russian-speakers, became persecuted by native Latvians. In 1993 they were expelled from Latvia and found refuge in the United States. In New York, she and her family had to build their life from scratch. After numerous ordeals and sacrifices, they have succeeded. She was educated in the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, and is now freshman at Harvard College, studying bio-chemistry.

In November 1999, my grandfather became the first member of our family to vote in the United States. For me, this was a glimpse into a life of freedom and opportunity I was lucky to now be a part of. My family and I came to America six years ago from a country of hate and discrimination, where citizenship and voting were privileges reserved for the select few.

My grandparents lived in Latvia most of their lives, and so did my parents. Yet they would never be citizens, for they were members, or relatives of members, of the Soviet Army, the occupants who invaded Latvia during World War II in their unasked-for attempt to destroy the Nazis. Now, the Fascist Party has gained control over Latvian politics and daily life. When I was called a "krieva tzuka" (Russian pig) or a "jude" (Jew), all I could do was run away. Many people fled Latvia for a new life, but many are still running. We found refuge in America, leaving behind everything we had.

Here, I can become a citizen, despite my nationality and religion. I can vote and be a respected member of society. I consider political involvement not only a privilege of all those fortunate enough to take part in it, but also the duty of my generation. It is only through voting and caring about who our leaders are that we can prevent another holocaust or race riot. Only through voting can we preclude what is now happening in Latvia and Austria from taking place in my new homeland. It is our obligation to build a country of tolerance, not hate, of peace, and not violence.

There is no single silver bullet that can wipe political indifference off the face of the earth, but there are many recommendations. I believe that my generation must be educated on the importance of politics and the changes that they, themselves, can induce simply by participation. It is not up to the select few to run our country; it is up to us. In the former Soviet Union, voting was simply a formality; the Communist Party predetermined all future leaders, ignoring the will of the people. People had no say in their government, but here the situation is different. We can make our voices heard, and we can make a difference. Thus, if young adults realize that they could influence the course of history, voting participation would undoubtedly skyrocket.

The greatest barrier to voting is the lack of patriotism in a majority of young adults. Many take the political and economic situation in the United States for granted, and they do so because of prevalent apathy toward learning and a lack of intellectual curiosity. The previous generation, with many faults of its own, can be characterized as possessing concern for their country and a love for knowledge that are much harder to find today. The select few of my generation who care deeply about everything they come across will certainly vote, but it should be our goal to make them a rule, not an exception.

Patriotism is something that can be, and should be, instilled in the souls of young children by their parents and educators. I believe that schools must teach young children about American history and the importance of voting, for only if they have love and respect toward their country, will they take deep interest in her future. Students must be shown that the current democratic government did not arise in the United States by accident, but through hard work and awareness on part of those who established it. If we want to preserve the spirit of freedom and tolerance in America, we must fight for it, just as our ancestors fought for its formation. Thus, major education reforms are needed to preserve the essence of patriotism alive.

Today, there are numerous ways to become informed of candidates' viewpoints, but there are many who do not have access to the Internet or cable. I expect that if people would have better knowledge of what they are voting for, they would more readily do so. This kind information is much harder to attain for a young adult than an average educated and established person. This year, I was able to watch only two debates on the Republican side and none at the Democratic side. With this dearth of information about any candidate, it is impossible to make a judicious decision about the policies he would enact once elected President. Consequently, I would like to see debates between all candidates for office as required elements, broadcasted on non-cable channels such as ABC.

The Internet has changed my generation as a whole. In view of an escalating number of sales that take place over the Web, I foresee a shift in the way voting transpires. If people were allowed to vote over the Internet, many that did not vote previously would do so now, due to the ease with which it can be done. Right now, MTV's Rock The Vote is gaining popularity among teens. Their website ( describes voting as "the ability to use our voices, to make things happen." Imagine what would happen if we used our power. We could stop the violence, erase the hatred, and improve our schools. We could change our world. Change starts with one simple action. Change starts with you. You can cast your ballot on Election Day.

There is an old saying, which says that Americans will cross the world to fight a war, yet they will not cross the street to vote. Whichever method will be chosen to combat this indifference, people must comprehend the importance of voting. The government is not meant to be distant force that does affect our lives. By participation in the political process we can bring the government into our homes and make it better able to suit our needs. We must understand that being a soldier of democracy is as important as being a soldier for America.


Now at college in Massachusetts
High school student
Born: 1982

Shaun Michael Filiault is a freshman dual major in political science and history with a minor in philosophy at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. While in high school, he was active in his community, serving on various boards of the city council and earned certification as a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician. He also was local coordinator for his high school's chapter of Democracy in Practice and editor of his high school newspaper. At Boston College he is a writer for the school newspaper and a member of the Mock Trial and Pre-Law society.

A System of Self-Responsibility

It was an excellent lesson in American politics. Truly, I had never learned more in such a condensed period of time than I had during that brief, yet incredibly influential conference. And, as I participated in the events of the College Convention 2000, a conference that combined America's best and brightest high school students and college students with presidential candidates, I realized that this conference was what democracy is all about. Democracy is education about current issues and how to become involved with such issues. Democracy is registering to vote and urging other to do the same. Democracy is the glue that holds America together, and, if democracy is to die, the United States will die with it.

However, not all people have been fortunate enough to have the political background and knowledge that I have, and allowed me to attend the Convention. Thus, many do not believe that their vote truly matters in the electoral process. Many no do not believe that the issues politicians decide upon effect them, and therefore turn a blind eye to politics, possessing an attitude that since politics does not affect them, they will not affect politics. Finally, many cite the inconvenience of registering and actually getting to the polls as a reason why they do not vote.

A plan to avoid this growing trend of voter apathy would be four-fold. The most important part of such a plan would be to implement a mandatory civics class at all American high schools, and make successful completion of this class a requirement for graduation. While touching upon the themes present at the national level politics, high school civics classes would focus upon grassroots politics by looking at local elections and issues of interest. In doing so, students would realize that the only elected officials are not the senators or congressmen whom they send to Washington, but also the mayor and city council they send to city hall. In doing so, students would see that even if the issues at a national level seem distant and abstract, those at a local level are more concrete and close to home. In learning about local politics, students will realize how much local politics affect their lives, and, even more importantly, that they can influence local politics by voting for city council and mayoral candidates with whom they agree. This class would also emphasize how to become involved in local politics by teaching students about public forums, petitioning, letter campaigns, and other methods of political influence.

Now possessing a generation of informed voters, the second step in increasing voter turnout would be an automatic registration process. Rather than requiring the often complex and burdensome task of personal registration, all persons aged eighteen years or older would be automatically registered to vote upon their eighteenth birthday, such as is currently practiced in the United Kingdom and Canada. Should a person change voting precincts, or wish to affiliate themselves with a particular party, these persons would be able to alert their voter registration office via the Internet to rectify such a matter. Such change of registration forms could easily be made secure using technology, which is already available on the Internet.

Since all US citizens over age eighteen would be registered to vote, all US citizens would be expected to vote. Thus, the United States should follow the model of Belgium and Australia, which enact fines upon those who do not show up at the polls on Election Day. After an election is held, voter checklists would be monitored for no-show voters, and these persons would be sent a notice for a fine. Should this fine not be paid within a set time limit, these non-voters would face a court hearing for a more significant punishment. It is due to such an innovative system that Belgium can report ninety-two percent voter turnout while the US can claim only forty-nine percent.

In order to aid voters to follow through with their Constitutional right, and avoid fines, employers, high schools, and universities would be required to provide transportation to all eligible students and employees to the polls at no expense. Thus, people would not be able to use the current excuse many non-voters claim, in that it is too burdensome to travel to the polls. To further lessen this burden, fewer elections should be held in the United States. In order to accomplish this goal, cities, counties, and states would be urged to work together so that elections for officers at all levels of government would be held on the same day. Therefore, voters would not be required to make the often numerous trips to the polls which voters in other nations, which often have a much larger voter turnout than the United States, are not subject to.

This nation faces so many important issues to young people that voting is vital. Issues such as school violence, the environment, educational funding, and the role of the United States are at the forefront. Each candidate has his or her own views on each of these issues, and intend on making their views policy upon election. Young voters can decide which of these views becomes policy by choosing a candidate.

It is unlikely that one vote will make a significant difference in an election. However, the youth of America can form a voting block if we desire to. This bloc is so large that any candidate would be a fool to ignore it. Youth can sway an election, but only if they so desire. If all these procedures, or even if one of these procedures would be followed, it would encourage more young people to vote and create this voting bloc. And, perhaps even more importantly, the American public would once again begin to feel the great pride toward their nation that I felt at the College Convention 2000. The future of our democracy depends on it.


College student
Born: 1980

Carl Folsom attends the University of Kansas. He has interned for Congressman Dennis Moore and Kansas State Representative Gerry Ray.

Every year the United States government spends billions of dollars to spread democratic ideals around the globe. At the same time, the citizens of this great country seem reluctant to share in their love of democracy, causing voter turnout levels to continue to decline. Like many actions of Americans, the desire to vote is one that needs to be taught at a young age. If potential voters start as soon as they are eligible, they are more likely to continue voting, as they grow older.

Thus, the key is to target young voters. It needs to be easier to vote for the first time, and the government also needs to send the message to young people that their vote matters. Both goals can be accomplished with a rather simple adjustment of the electoral system. With the implementation of election-day voter registration and a single transferable vote system, the United States of America can show its young citizens that it is not only easy to vote, but that their vote is actually worth something.

Before the problem of low turnout can be solved, it must be understood why it is a problem. Essentially, the less people vote, the less representative the government is of the people. If only the upper-middle class turns out at the polls, politicians can concentrate on the issues pertaining to that group of people and tiptoe around more important issues like education and income distribution. Similarly, if young people don't turnout to vote, politicians can ignore their views altogether. It is almost as if they don't exist at all, as long as they don't mobilize and force government officials to listen to them. This causes bills to be passed without any regard for the young voter. It needs to be understood why young adults are so apathetic and why they are letting their country be run without any regard to how they feel.

The first thing holding most young people from voting is the registration process. Every election day I call my friends and remind them to vote. I receive the same response, "I'm not registered." At this point it is too late. Most youthful adults don't think far enough ahead to register thirty days in advance. They have far too many other things on their mind. They are not initiated to the voting process at a young age and may not become politically active until they are much older. Election-day registration would solve this problem. It coincides perfectly with the spur of the moment attitude that most young adults share. Five states have passed this into law and they have shown progress increasing voter turnout. A nation wide bill would similarly propagate voting levels.

The second proposition to increase voter turnout is to eliminate wasted votes. In the current election system, if a person does not vote for the Republicans or Democrats they may feel that their vote has been wasted. This is especially true with young voters, who may be drawn to a non-traditional political party. A simple solution to this is the single transferable vote system, or instant runoff voting. In this electoral system, instead of voting for just one candidate, a voter would rank them in preference. Therefore, if a voter's first choice for office has no chance of attaining a majority of the vote, the voter's second choice would receive the vote. This system has been effectively implemented in Ireland and not only increases voter turnout, but also more accurately targets the people's choice for public office. This style of voting system would especially attract young voters, giving them reassurance that their vote will not be wasted if they don't initially vote with a mainstream political party.

Each of these proposals is an attempt to solve a problem that is in desperate need of repair. The United States currently trails only Switzerland for the lowest voter turnout in the democratic world. Decreasing the restrictions on registering is one way to attack this problem. Election-day registration enables the youth of America to vote without the struggles of pre-registering months in advance. Implementing instant runoff voting is also a necessary change that would instill confidence in the process of voting for public office.

Each of these methods would increase turnout slightly, but in concurrence, these proposals could combine to be the kind of dynamic electoral policy that would mobilize young voters and force the leaders of this country to listen to what they have to say.


NOw in college in Greenville, NC
High school student
Born: 1982

Megan Rosell grew up on an island - Cape Hatteras, in North Carolina and attended Cape Hatteras School. It houses grades K-12 with about 600 students. She lives with her mother, who is a teacher and her younger sister. This fall she is attending East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. where she is studying to become a CPA.

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 monopolies 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 could 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.


College Student
Born: 1977

Warwick Sabin is the press secretary for U.S. Representative Marion Berry (1st District, Arkansas). He recently completed an M.A. in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University in England, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. In 1998, he graduated from the University of Arkansas with a B.A. in political science, and served there as president of the student body.

The reason why young people don't vote is so obvious that it can be found in the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers, progressive and tolerant though they were, saw fit to cite age as the only limitation to holding a federal elected office. In a document that rightly stands as a model for modern liberal democracy, neither race nor gender nor religion nor creed were mentioned as being relevant to the qualifications of a representative. This only serves to emphasize the degree to which age discrimination is rooted in the American political system. From the beginning, those under 25 (the minimum age for a member of the House of Representatives) have been treated as less-than-equal citizens, so it is no surprise or coincidence that men and women aged 18-25 represent the demographic group that votes the least.

The age requirements mandated in the Constitution for the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency are arbitrary to say the least. What makes a 25 year-old more qualified to represent his or her fellow citizens than an 18 year-old? Why do the responsibilities of a senator require an additional five years life experience? Some may contend that a certain level of maturity is necessary for such important positions, or that the age restrictions ensure that only those who have a personal and professional stake in the community can stand for office. Interestingly enough, these same arguments were used against women who campaigned for the right to vote in the early years of the twentieth century. Women did not have the "temperament" to make important decisions, according to popular sentiment, and why should they vote if they don't own property or have jobs? Of course, the same logic was used to defend the positioning of the voting age at 21.

When a citizen turns 18, the law regards him or her as an independent entity, capable of voting, paying taxes, and serving in the military. To deny this citizen the opportunity to hold federal elected office is inconsistent and discriminatory. Voters should be the judge of a candidate's abilities and qualifications without the government setting restrictions based on certain personal characteristics.

Now why does this kind of age discrimination affect voter turnout among young people? In the first place, it is clear that a sense of disenfranchisement with the political system develops when citizens cannot identify with their representatives. Part of the reason why white people over 45 vote more often is that most candidates for political office are white and over 45. Idealistic political philosophy often maintains that any citizen ought to be able to effectively represent his or her fellow citizens regardless of his or her background. In reality, districts with a racial, ethnic or religious majority elect members of Congress who look and think like the majority. Young people never have the opportunity to vote for people who share their generational perspective, and this understandably leads to apathy and disassociation from the political system.

Imagine that a big university town sent a 22 year-old to Washington on a platform of increasing federal assistance to post-secondary institutions and financial aid to students. Or consider the excitement among young professionals that would accompany the senate candidacy of a 26 year-old. Do you think more young people would vote? Of course they would, because suddenly they would identify with a political figure that spoke there language and understood their interests.

With this in mind, the minimum age requirement for all federal elected officials should be lowered to 18. The American people and the U.S. government currently do not tolerate official restriction of political participation according to any other category, and our history demonstrates that groups, which endure such discrimination, when liberated, become active and vital members of the polity. Young people don't need new ways to vote; they just need a connection to the political system that makes it seem more relevant and accessible. The right to vote is a powerful tool of democracy, but so is the right to contest positions of power. When the latter is finally extended to young people, they will find much more satisfaction and meaning in the former.


High school student
Born: 1982

Christina Stone is a high school student in Houston, Texas. As a sophomore, she received the HOBY Award and attended the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Seminar at Rice University. She has volunteered on political campaigns.

I rang the doorbell of a two-story brick home in southwest Houston. "Hello sir, I am representing Republican, Dr. John Sanchez, who is running for Congress this November. Would you like some information concerning his platform?" The new Sanchez supporter enthusiastically volunteered to contribute to our campaign. Bouncing down his lawn, I felt I had contributed to our system of democracy in my small way.

Each week during the summer of my junior year, I worked with Sanchez's committed team of volunteers. We pursued interminable lists of mail-outs, telephone calls, and doorbells. Involvement allowed me to realize how much effort a campaign requires. My amazing experience triggered my own political opinions and ideas for the future - welfare, taxes, and health care.

Perhaps if legislation required campaign experience, young men and women would obtain knowledge and interest in our political system. Political participation is pivotal because these young men and women will be directing our political system in the future. However, lowering voting age is not the solution. Voting is a tremendous responsibility, requiring information about candidates/issues. Therefore, most eighteen-year-olds are capable of making wise, mature choices.

The dilemma is fomenting desire and convenience to vote. I suggest widespread voting online. The world is moving into the twenty-first century with amazing technological advances. Schools, libraries, and work places all have Internet access. Thus, voting availability would skyrocket.

In addition, voting would perhaps seem like less of a chore. Could voting be fun and rewarding? Internet graphics, pictures, and sounds could attract young voters in America. Advertising campaign and candidate information web sites could increase issue awareness. Let us get young people excited about voting!

Generally, the only government exposure for young men and women is a textbook high school course. Although education about our democracy is crucial, hand-on experience is necessary to instigate young voters.

Furthermore, the number of voters would surely increase if Election Day were a holiday. My mother phoned from work last November. "Honey, I'll be home as soon as I race to the polls. Dinner will be late tonight. The hospital was crazy today!" The door slammed when she finally came home; the polls were closed by the time she could get off work. My best friend, Amy, who works at Hallmark after school, also complained to me about voting hours. Thus, if Election Day were a national holiday, we could tear up our list of excuses. Next to apathy, inconveniences the major cause of non-voters.

My dad, also politically active, plucked my brother Jon and me from our homework last week for President Clinton's State of the Union Address. Dinner that did not include our successes and failures at school; rather, we dived into Clinton's aims for the future. Although my parents never concisely reveal whom they vote for, the compel Jon and me to choose our own views. The government is not the only palpable source to promote political participation; parents must also introduce our political system to their children.

Political socialization, the process by which one obtains his/her political opinions, exists through parents, community, and education. My economics class, filled to the brim with extremely bright Lamar High School students, hotly debated abortion last week. After the third round buzzer, my teacher Mr. Dorsey interjected, "We have a birthday girl today!" We promptly san "Happy Birthday," and she received her gift - a voter registration card. Voting is something to celebrate in our classroom. However, many teachers do not encourage political activity like Mr. Dorsey. Perhaps the government should send representatives into high schools; informative seminars that explain the importance of voting will increase the number of voters.

In addition, these representatives should explain the voting process to help new voters realize how simple and speedy voting is. My sophomore year, I received the HOBY Award and attended the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Seminar in June at Rice University. Our activities included participating in a mock trial, hearing entrepreneur speakers, and debating controversial issues such as affirmative action. Meeting other students my age and interacting influential business and government figures from around the country provoked my desire for political action. We need more of this conference to bring the community together!

All three aspects - parents, education and community - must gel for young men and women to get politically active. Nevertheless, our government must reinforce these steps of involvement. Mandatory political campaign activities, online voting, work-free Election Day, and political awareness in school, and information sessions in communities need to be established by the government in order for young men and women to participate politically. Apathy and inconvenience need to be conquered. This arduous battle is important for the future of America. Our "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" rests in the hands of young people - high school and college students like me.


College student Born: 1976

Emily Talmage is a senior at Prescott College in Arizona. She is studying environmental education, and believes strongly in student-centered, whole body learning. In September 2000 she returned from a month-long whitewater rafting expedition down the Green River in Utah, where she learned both boating skills and studied the natural history of the Colorado Plateau. When not studying and exploring, she likes to contra dance, hike, and cook.

I am part of a dying breed. I am in my twenties, I vote, and I am politically informed. Most of my peers can't even name their representatives, let alone get off the couch to vote. This unfortunate fact is due to many reasons, but primarily because young adults are dissociated from society, and do not see democratic participation as essential to the survival of our country. Another important reason is that corporate interests run the United States government, and young people see individual efforts such as voting to be futile in the face of these powerful opponents. In order for this to change, a major paradigm shift will have to occur in the way Americans view ourselves and our government, and changing the electoral system will not help get young adults out to the polls.

Multi-national corporations are more powerful than world governments, including the United States. The World Trade Organization makes trade decisions for countries based on the best interests of each corporation's profit margin, and decimates the environment and working conditions worldwide. We, along with the rest of the world, bow to these greedy giants. The state of Massachusetts attempted to stop buying from Burma because of their human rights violations, and the WTO's response was to fine Massachusetts and declare their actions illegal because they were against "free trade." Young people watch multi-national corporations squash entire states, and are shown the futility of any individual attempt to make a stand. We don't trust our politicians, and know that they all owe favors to special interest groups for campaign contributions. We don't go to the polls to vote because our choices are pathetic, and we view most politicians as powerless in the face of corporate interest.

An even bigger problem is our disassociation from community. Generation Xers don't see themselves as part of a whole, but as individuals. Culturally we have not been taught to look out for our fellow man, but for ourselves. We don't watch the news or read the paper because it is not relevant to our daily lives. We have been taught to flip the channel to "The Simpsons," because entertainment is more important to us than politics. As citizens we were much more enamored with the idea of Warren Beatty contemplating a presidential bid than Bill Bradley's campaign efforts.

Growing up our two main sources of ideas and information are our families and school. In both places we are taught to obey, and listen silently. We take other people's words for truth, and are not taught to think for ourselves. School focuses on the individual and not on community. Our academic achievements and awards are based on personal performances. Most of our schooling takes place in rooms lit by florescent lights, and we have no relation to the natural world. The American educational system churns out workers who will do as they are told and not rock the boat. Voting is acknowledging that their personal opinions are valued, a lesson that has not been taught to them.

Most of us are wrapped up in our daily lives, and the political process is something far away from us. My generation has not experienced hardship, in the form of a war or a food shortage. We assume that we will always be provided for because our country is so affluent. As long as our beef comes from the deli at the supermarket, we don't have to think about the rainforest destruction or the water pollution caused by factory farming. We don't see this, and are not held accountable by anyone for the choices we make as consumers, which have political effects. The United States likes to hide ugliness, so most of us do not see the havoc we wreak on the natural world or on other cultures. If we were ever to experience the ramifications of our actions, we might take a little more interest in the political process.

To correct this we must change our current education models. We need to look at ourselves as part of a greater whole. This begins with the classroom community, and extends out to the global community. Our children need to spend a large part of their education focusing on other cultures. Examining how others live will provide students with a unique perspective on their own lives. They need to recognize difference as strength, and have a sense of something greater than themselves. Students need to learn to think for themselves, and be shown how to seek out knowledge themselves instead of blindly accepting textbook information. Experiential education gets our kids out into the world, and shows them practical applications of knowledge. Service needs to be a daily aspect of education to foster connectedness. Once you are invested in the world around you, a desire to take part in democracy will emerge.

Unfortunately there are no easy or quick answers that will get young people to vote. Changing the voting age, voting on the Internet, or registering at the polls will not motivate anyone to vote. They don't vote because they are uninformed and uninterested. We must reexamine our society to see where we are going wrong. We have to be willing to create a society in which differences are acknowledged and accepted, a society where people have connections to one another and to the natural world. We must change the American dream from the success of the individual to the success of the group. Only then will there be a desire and a space for debate, and a compulsion to make informed decisions about the world through political participation.


Now in college in Corvallis, OR
College student
Born: 1978

Heather Turner is in her fourth year at Oregon State University, studying nutrition science and international studies. She volunteers as a Spanish translator at a local medical clinic for people who don't have health insurance. Last year she spent four months studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. She also is working on a survey at a clinic in Salem, OR that talks with recent immigrants from Mexico about their access to healthcare and limitations to being served. She works at Community Outreach in Corvallis, a social service agency, as a crisis line and shelter supervisor. Originally from Salem, OR, her parents are Janice and Dale Turner and her brother is Nathan Turner.

Changes in Education and Accessibility: "Who wants to vote anyway"?

"Hey, I live in Oregon, the president is already decided on before our voting polls close." Yes, we live in an apathetic society, but for reason. As a 21 year old registered voter, I generally vote, but I can understand why my classmates chose not to follow suit.

First of all, we always feel like we are being tricked by the politicians' advertising campaigns. It seems that whoever has the most money and big business support will have the best ads and with them, an improved public image. I would appreciate a non-biased source on the Internet that would give accurate information about all the candidates running for an office, small or big party. It would need to be short and simple to understand. Also beneficial would be descriptions of what the more obscure parties stand for. Democrat and Republican parties have been traditional household names, but many young voters are interested in new ideas that are better expressed by other groups or independents.

Internet voting would also increase voting by drastic standards. Most young people, especially university students have excellent access to computers and enjoy using them. We can be called lazy or busy. If we can sit in our chairs and make a few clicks with the mouse it will increase our voter turnout. Oregon State University, my college, recently changed the student government elections to the Internet and the results were outstanding. I feel that the governmental elections would experience the same success.

Another important problem that could be addressed is the level of political education in the elementary, middle and high schools. The curriculum would be better if it instilled a sense of ownership in the country. I think that young people often feel like they have no power. One way to change this would be to have young students write letters to politicians to express ideas. Also important is to teach the students the workings of an election and the job responsibilities of elected officials. Everyone hears about the president, but who knows about the country sheriffs, the school board members and the local mayor? Smaller elections can prove that a few votes really do count.

When I was in grade school, I took the required trip to the state capital building, of course, I lived in Salem, Oregon, the capital city, so the drive only took a few minutes. We watched either the House or Senate discuss some issue about the coast guard. I remember being very bored and counting the fish and pine trees on the expensive carpeting rather than paying much attention. Even though I was sitting there watching it, I still felt like I had no power. The politicians on the floor might have as well been on television because I felt like I could not communicate with them or voice my opinion. This could have been a very positive experience, but with my cut-off feeling, it had little effect. I felt like a number, a schoolchild that was being shuffled through a traditional field-trip. This feeling needs to change among schoolchildren. The teachers that bring the children need to prepare the students. The politicians need to take time to talk with the students and listen to their ideas. If we had felt like we had a voice at age ten, we would feel like we have a voice now, at age twenty-one.

So many political issues affect the youth of America, but we are leaving the older generation excessive power to make our decisions. Issues like abortion, welfare, the environment and education are all very important to us as students if we can understand just how much certain decisions will affect us and our classmates. I realize now that I do hold a great deal of power by being a voting citizen of the United States of America, but this is due to an extended education and some luck. Most of my peers are in a different situation.

All in all, I think the two most important changes that need to be made are in education and accessibility. We need to know about the political system before age eighteen and we need to know that our voices really can change the system. In this busy world, access to candidate and issue information in a quick and easy format is also extremely important. Voting by Internet is the same issue. Time is money and the more it "costs" to vote, the less likely we will be to participate.


College student
Born: 1980

Karmin Tyack is a senior at Seattle Pacific University majoring in communications and minoring in business. Scheduled to graduate in June of 2001, she is not exactly sure where her future is headed. This fall she is pursuing her interest in business communications with an internship at Her family is a blessing to her and where she learned the values expressed in her essay.

In their matching rocking chairs, my grandparents squint at the small print on their voter's ballots as they carefully mark their choices. Across the table from Grandpa, I eat a ham sandwich and listen to stories of battle that were his reality, but to me are scenes from an unrealistic black and white movie. Over an evening of dominos, I listen to their passionate discussion of the recent initiatives and issues facing our government. To Grandpa and Grandma, democracy and freedom are not simply ideals; they are vital principles that they have personally sacrificed to uphold. Voting is an expression of their feeling of personal responsibility for the course of their country. During my months in their home I learned many things from my grandparents. I learned that it is a privilege of the young to be able to bend over without pain. I learned that it is a privilege of the healthy to be able to go an entire day without medication. I learned that it is a privilege of the American to be able to have a voice in their government. I learned that these privileges are never to be taken for granted, for there are many who suffer without them.

Today, many people are asking my generation why we do not vote, why we do not care about our government. Officials are not elected by the majority anymore. As evidenced by the number of voters, the majority does not care. Why? I do not believe that there is a simple answer to that question, or a simple solution to the problem. Do we not value our freedom, or do we not feel that our voice will be heard? I think it is a little of both. This generation of "young people" has not yet had to pay a high price for freedom. Our rights were handed to us by those who lived before us. I think in some ways we do not value democracy because we have not paid for it. Grandpa and Grandma paid that price for us.

Another missing element of our attitude toward government is personal responsibility. Many people of my generation feel that there is no point to voting. One voice can do very little to influence the course of government that seems very far away and sometimes unjust. Rather than talking over dominos about the current initiatives, we sit on our lunch break and complain about how much the government takes out of our paychecks. The sense of duty that my grandparents feel is absent. We do not feel that we should or can do anything about the aspects of government we view as corrupt. The right to vote is not seen as powerful, it is seen as pointless. Personally, I believe that I do not have the right to complain about anything unless I am doing everything within my power to change it. This includes voting about who leads the American people and where they lead us. For some reason, most of my generation has not learned that lesson.

If this is the problem, what is the solution? Do we have to fight in a war and pay with our lives in order to value our freedom? What will cause us to feel responsible for the course our country takes, rather than blaming "the system"? As I said before, I do not believe there to be one simple solution. Maybe everyone should go live with my Grandpa and Grandma for four months when the turn 18. Since everyone would not fit in Grandpa and Grandma's house, I suggest that we bring Grandpa and Grandma to school. What I mean by that is, expose us to the people who paid the price for the freedom we enjoy. Let us hear them share the cost and value of democracy. Let them instill in us the value of personal responsibility. Let them teach us.

In essence, I believe a large piece of the solution to be better education on the importance of voting. I received this education from my grandparents. It would be nice if the same lessons were available to every student before they leave the public school system. Let us work hard to create a generation that values their freedom and works hard to preserve it for the next generation. Let us work hard to be that kind of generation. As the grandparents of the future, what lessons will we teach about the principles our country has established and upheld over hundreds of years?