Town & Gown: Why don't more young people vote?

10/05/2012 1:07 AM

10/05/2012 1:10 AM

My first taste of the democratic process came in 2000.

My second- grade class was to hold a mock version of the presidential election, and my fellow classmates and I knew very little about the candidates and their platforms, and we lacked a good understanding of the issues at hand.

Our opinions, if any, were borrowed from comments our parents let slip at the dinner table. Yet none of this quelled our excitement. Every lunchtime and recess leading up to the fateful day was abuzz with lively chatter about the mock election.

But that excitement waned. As my classmates grew older, their fervent interest in the electoral process was shown to be short-lived, devolving into mild indifference at best.

Perhaps they now feel their single ballot won't make a difference. Or maybe they are turned off because they don't see a place for themselves in the political system. They could just be unaware and underinformed

We face with a generation of 18- to 24-year-olds strikingly absent from the polls.

In recent years there has been a surge in campaigns encouraging young people to vote. On campus, the Associated Students of Merced College began a contest among student organizations to register students and community members to vote. ASMC provides the forms and the club that registers the most students will win a dinner courtesy of ASMC.

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco last year, state residents whose signature is on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles can register to vote online. This holds appeal for young voters, as they can register without closing Facebook.

While the principles behind these efforts are likely positive, I am wary of the manner in which they are being implemented.

The traditional method of participating in the most essential part of our democratic process, the act of registering to vote, has become antiquated, forcing institutions to adapt to new channels of communication in order to make voting more accessible and appealing to those who least engage in the practice.

It appears as if the only way to reach out to the youngest eligible voters is to market voting as one would a business, through social media, offering incentives. Voting campaigns with celebrity endorsements are featured left and right.

Is offering something in return the only way to get people invested in the cornerstone of democracy? Must there be a "hook"?

I notice adults do not meet the act of voting with my peers' hesitation, but with a sense of civic duty.

Are people driven away from the polls by age or consciousness? Or can it be that with age, consciousness and esteem for voting flourishes naturally?

The decisions formed in the coming election will be pivotal for Merced College students, as at every other institution of higher education in the country. No matter your party affiliation, no one knows the issues that deeply impact students better than the students themselves.

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