Essays from Maine

High school student
Born: 1981

Essay themes: Emphasis on local politics, lack of understanding of issues, education on the political world and its language

"Hi. My name is Tammy Teen, and I'm your typical 18-year-old. I'm graduating high school this year and going to college in the fall -- if I ever manage to get my applications in. I've already missed a couple of deadlines....oops. Oh well. I'll get around to it. It's just I'm so busy. Between school (exams were last week) and swimming practice, my days are filled up. Homework at night, and weekends are reserved for sleeping and socializing. So yesterday was Election Day, and my parents asked me if I voted. I didn't. I mean, I guess I'm old enough, but why should I really? I don't know any of the people running or what they say they're going to do. I don't even really know what the issues are. Besides, they don't really affect me. My parents were talking about the military and health care and social security. What do I care about that? The old folks run the government anyway. My opinion doesn't really count. Maybe when I'm older. One of my teachers said there was going to be a debate on TV Wednesday evening, but I didn't end up watching it because there was an MTV special on at the same time. On commercials, I flipped to the debate, but I could barely understand what the guys were arguing about. And neither of them made me willing to vote for him. So I didn't vote at all. Maybe next time."

As this example shows, a lot of young people just don't make voting or government participation a priority. There are numerous reasons for this, but I think the primary one is lack of understanding. We learn about the basic workings of government in school -- everyone knows (or should know -- many don't) about the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch -- but little time is spent on local politics. As a result, government, voting, and candidates running for office, seem removed and remote. If you don't really know what a senator or representative does, how do you know who will do a good job? If you don't know what the current issues are, don't understand them, or don't believe that they affect you, how do you know whom you agree with? A lot of my peers couldn't tell you the basic differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. And at the age of 20, are you really concerned about the future of social security? Probably not -- though you should be. What you are concerned about is school, your friends, your family. You get your news from TV -- flipping channels during commercials, maybe, or on the Preview Channel. Or maybe you hear about politics on the Internet -- headlines on your start-up page. You don't know much about state or local elections, but you do know one thing: you are sick of hearing about politicians. Occasionally, you will hear something that piques your curiosity: a candidate's view on something that you are passionate about -- abortion maybe, or the environment, or laws that pertain directly to you. You decide either "that candidate could be pretty good" or "that person better not get elected." Now you care enough to vote.

The problem is, you never cared enough before, so you haven't registered. Where do you register? How? Does it matter enough to spend the time and effort? Does one vote really count?

How do we go about fixing the low levels of voter participation among young people? In my opinion, the first step is education. We need to be taught about government as it applies to us. We need to learn basic information about what people do who are elected. We need to learn the "lingo" of politics, and we need to be informed about what is going on in government. We need to hear candidates' views on issues that are important to us. Voters who do not know who or what they are voting for are dangerous voters, and too many young people fill out ballots only because they can. One way to educate young voters would be to have local caucus members come to the high school and speak to upperclassmen. This would make politics seem much less distant, and allow students to ask questions in a less formal setting than a civics course. Also, voting has to be very accessible. Our generation is well known for its procrastination --if it's not easy, it might not be important enough. Election Day registration would definitely help, and I know many people -- myself included -- would register and vote online if it were possible. If our government is to remain "of the people, by the people, and for the people," the people must first be involved -- by voting. As today's young people age, political participation becomes imperative if the government is going to operate at its maximum potential.