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Putting the youth back in voting

By Brendan Brooks | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted May 17, 2007

Young people are by far the most politically apathetic group: Every single age group has a greater average voter turnout than 18-24 year olds, and the highest voter turnout comes from those 65 and older.

Studies show that if an individual does not start voting when they turn 18, they will most likely not begin voting later on in life. What does this mean? It means voter turnout will decrease as older generations age and pass away, and younger generations choose not to vote. The effects are already being seen today: Voter turnout has decreased from 63.1 percent in 1960 to 55.3 percent in 2004 (although this is up from a low of 49.1 percent in 1996).

Turnout in mid-year elections is much lower than during presidential election, dropping to 37 percent of registered voters in 2002. As turnout has decreased, there has been an increase in voter registration drives aiming to register as many people as possible. However, the number of overall voters has not increased.

So how does the United States, as a country, increase voter turnout? It starts with the youth. Teenagers like me need to start voting right when they turn eighteen, and continue voting for the rest of their lives. The problem is that so many people my age are disenchanted with the political system and believe that their vote doesn’t count-and in many cases, it really doesn’t. In presidential elections, which are much more hyped than midterm elections by the media and by candidates themselves, the electoral college makes it hard for individual voices to be heard.

In an extremely liberal state like Vermont, where the margin of victory for Democratic candidates is often more than 30 percent, it’s easy to see why young Republicans (and even Democrats) can feel that their voice doesn’t count among the hundreds of thousands in Vermont. The electoral college must be abolished in favor of a popular vote for every person to feel that their vote is really counted.

There’s other ways to get involved in the political process. I spent many hours this summer and fall volunteering on Bernie Sanders’ senatorial campaign, working my way into the process without actually voting.

Young people like me need to feel that they can be catalysts in the political process, to be able to make real change, and see results from their work. Seeing the fruits of the labor of election work is hard, but is definitely possible. Young people also need to see the need for political work and activism. Politics directly creates government, and the government permeates every aspect of our lives, like it or not. Once young people can understand this fact and see how they can really make political change, then we will see voter turnout and interest increase, and apathy decrease.

Brendan Brooks is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.

May 14-21 is High School Voter Registration Week, which was established to encourage Vermont’s high schools to register their 18 year olds to vote before they leave school. For more information about this program go to www.govotevermont.com