On February 3, 1870 the movementfor universal suffrage was born when blacks were given the right to vote. Years later in 1920, this right was extended to women. And a century after the movement began (in 1971) under the slogan "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote," suffrage was finally extended to those aged 18. Our nation has gone through a century of struggle to give this basic right to these three groups. Yet only two out of the three -- women and blacks -- realize their societal duties and cast their ballots. As I sat down to interview Johns Hopkins political science professor Benjamin Ginsberg, he quipped, "So you're writing about the youth vote? Well, the thing is, they don't!" And if the past is any indication of the future, the elections this November will be no different.
Although not the most politically experienced constituency, young people aged 18 to 24 are the largest (with 44 million people, e.g. more than one fifth of the electorate) and the most ethnically diverse, according to Rock the Vote, an organization aimed at getting the youth to vote. This makes the youth perhaps the most comprehensive representation of the views and interests of U.S. citizens. Yet they are the most underrepresented. A meager 47 percent of youths vote compared to 73 percent of seniors between 65 and 74, according to Brian Faler of the Washington Post.
So why don't the youth vote? Two reasons. The first deals with the pragmatic obstacles to voting. A good portion of the youth is comprised of out-of-state college students, and this poses many complications to the voting process. Do you get an absentee ballot? And where do you get one? What state do you vote in, your home state or your college's state? As Ginsberg put it, "Many students tell themselves 'I don't know where I should vote. Therefore I should not vote.'"
So to clear up all these issues, I will tell you right now. First you need to register to vote. If you're a Maryland resident (i.e. have a utility bill in your name, a lease, etc) you had until Oct. 14 to register. There is a new national registration form that you can download online from www.declareyourself.com, which does an excellent job of clearly explaining the voting process for each state.
The second reason for the low voter turnout among young people has to do with their busy schedules and self-centered mentalities.Overwhelmed with school work and anxiety over their individual futures, students don't have time to think about issues facing the larger community. As Ginsberg said, "Students displaced from their homes are anomic and not part of a political community, so they are less likely to vote. People who have more free time are more closely tied to the community, like the retired, and are more likely to vote."
George Pataki, a 22-year-old from Queens, told USA Today, "It's not that I don't care. It's just that I've got more things to worry about, like myself."
But is it really true that politics have no affect on our youthful lives? No, it is not. There are many issues that will have major consequences for us both now and later.
The drinking age is higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world. One reason that alcohol policies have not been revised is that those aged 18 to 21 --who have the most immediate desire for an alcohol policy change --seldom participate in politics.
However, this issue does not affect all young people, as not all young people drink. But all young people do pay taxes, and these taxes are subject to major changes based on our response to one of the greatest problems acing the country today: the social security and Medicare dilemma. The problem is that the government has promised retirees vastly more money than they can give at present levels of taxation. And, as Arthur Melzer, professor of political science at Maryland State University said, "There are two ways to solve it: one is to cut benefits, affecting the older; the other is to increase taxes, affecting the younger. Any such problem will be solved to the benefit of those who vote more [such as] the older."
Many young people feel that voting is irrational as their vote is mathematically unlikely to count. But voting is more than a numbers game. Voting is, as Ginsberg said, "the best way we have for people to express their views and hold the people in power accountable for their actions." If Ginsberg's reasoning does not convince you to vote, then perhaps Melzer's will: "If you don't vote, you get fleeced: Policy will favor those who vote over those who don't."