Saturday, June 28, 2008

Young people: Voting is your right -- and your responsibility

(Originally published 6/28/08)

Is Election Day voter registration a good idea?

Yes, says Tim Russert’s son, Luke –- especially as a means of increasing young voter turnout.

Luke argued this week on CNN that if it was easier for young people to vote, more of them would do it.

Yes, they would. But would that necessarily be a good thing for the country?

I say no.

I once believed that Americans should be required to vote. Regular readers out there know how I feel about citizens’ responsibility to participate in their government.

But I no longer believe in compulsory voting – and it’s because of how I feel about citizens’ responsibility to participate in their government.

Voting isn’t like going to the corner store to pick up milk (or, in the case of some college students, beer), or downloading this week’s No. 1 song to your iPod.

Voting is a solemn responsibility that Americans have an obligation to take seriously. We’re not voting for Student Council when we choose our local, state and federal officials, and we’re not picking a Homecoming Queen or Prom King when we elect a president.

At least, we shouldn't be.

And that’s why we should invest time and effort in making our choices – and if we won’t take the time and make the effort on our own, our system should encourage us to do so. Early registration, which requires voters to be deliberate about their intention to vote, is a reasonable component of that system.

Luke Russert said he believes the youth vote has increased over the last three election cycles because the Internet has made political information more accessible to his generation and allowed young voters the opportunity to “be very engaged in the political process.”

“Even kids who went into business who are only interested – or just interested in art or other aspects of – in college life, they would read up on politics, more so this election than in the past,” he said.

(What? Even business students are reading up on this election? Wow, it is exciting!)

So why won’t young non-voters engage?

“I think, one, you’re going to have kids who are just apathetic, who really don’t care, who would rather go to a party or think about a sports game rather than actually voting,” he said. “…You can almost say that the motto for kids in politics is ‘Whatever.’ What you hear a lot amongst college kids is, ‘Whatever, man, whatever, I don’t care, it’s not that big a deal to me.’”

Luke lauded Election Day voter registration as “one of the best things individual states can do to get young people to the polls.”

“If you’re in college and there’s a ticket party, there’s always more kids at the ticket party who buy at the door than having to buy it in advance,” Luke said. “I think that could translate into young people voting.”

But polling places aren’t ticket parties, or keggers or anything else cavalier. So why should America make it easier for those who haven’t made their government a priority – and who actually actively avoid political issues and debate – to have a stake in picking her leaders?

I agree with Luke on the endgame: "It’s so, so important for young people to have a stake in this election right now and just in their democracy,” he said.

Yes, it is – important enough for them to prepare and educate themselves to participate in that democracy. And not just “right now,” but all the time.

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