Have Americans Forgotten the Importance of Voting?

Leah Canonico

According to the “United States Elections Project”, the estimated voter turnout of the  2008 Presidential Election by the voting-eligible population is about 41%.  Roughly, this means that six out of ten registered voters chose to stay home on election day. Less than half of eligible Americans voted. I, for one, find this number appalling. The foundation for our country is freedom, more specifically, freedom to express ourselves and our opinions. Why aren’t we taking advantage of that, when the voices of people in many countries are silenced by their oppressive governments? Women in this country starved themselves to gain suffrage. Just knowing what those women put themselves through so that their daughters and granddaughters had the right to vote makes me feel as though it’s my duty to vote. Men and women in the service put their lives at risk so that each person’s voice is protected.  We always hear politicians preaching about how great democracy is, but in all honesty, I don’t think we have one anymore. What’s a democracy without its fundamental component, the voice of its citizens? Somewhere along the line, “we the people” stopped caring, or just became lazy.

Low political efficacy (a citizen’s belief that he/she understands the government, he/she has a voice in government, and that the government will listen to that voice) is one of the main reasons people don’t vote, and is becoming an increasing problem in our country. If someone feels as though he/she doesn’t understand the government system, or feels as though his/her vote doesn’t make a difference, it’s understandable that that person wouldn’t bother voting. One solution to this problem may be more education on our political system. I know since I began taking AP Government, I have much higher political efficacy and am much more adamant about getting involved in politics.

I asked my fellow Gov classmates if there was anyone who felt as though they would not  vote in the upcoming Presidential Election. Even with Mr. Walsh out of the room, no one raised their hand. I also asked my class if they felt that taking Gov has inspired and motivated them to get involved in politics, either by voting or another type of participation. Everyone’s hands went up, signifying that more education about the government system and about politics in general has a positive effect on one’s political efficacy and desire to participate.

Knowing about the presidential candidates is just as important as understanding the political system. Let’s face it: debates aren’t the MOST entertaining programs to watch, especially if they center around Republican candidates when you’re a Democrat, and vice-versa. But if people don’t watch debates, how are they getting information on the candidates? Chances are the news station they are watching is biased (the AP Gov classes researched media bias, and two major news networks, MSNBC and Fox are indeed biased). Unless people are interested enough to do their own research (or God-forbid, sit through the ‘boring’ debates) there is no way they can get un-biased, completely true information on the candidates.

Another problem in our country is voter fatigue; Americans may feel as though we host too many elections, and are tired of them.  After all, we do have numerous elections at the national level, state level, and at the local level. For some people, there aren’t enough hours in the day- they can’t seem to fit voting into their hectic schedules. One way to curb voter fatigue may be to extend the time frame that people can vote. Maybe if people know ahead of time that they have an extra day, they will make the effort to fit it into their schedules.

A lot of young people don’t vote because they feel as though who runs the government doesn’t affect them. WRONG. As we prepare to go to college, we will begin to realize that the so-called economic crisis is actually a crisis (take a look at the National Debt clock! http://www.usdebtclock.org/). As we come into our own and continue to develop our identities, policies on issues such as Gay Marriage and Abortion may apply to us when they didn’t before.

Another reason young voters don’t vote is because they simply don’t know how to register. Conveniently, at Franklin High School, the Contemporary Issues classes (taught by Mr. Leighton) will do all the work for you!  Thursday, December 8th, will be the last time the classes come around during lunch with the materials to register. It only takes a minute to fill out the information, but if you want to register you MUST have either your driver’s license number OR know the last four digits of your social security number. If you don’t get the chance to register at lunch, stop by Mr. Leighton’s room D211 at any time to register.

Senior Danny Tighe is one of the students taking Contemporary Issues that you might see coming around during lunch time. Danny is very passionate about voting, saying “It is truly important that people get to voice their opinion, especially at a young age because that’s when the freedom really matters.  Plenty of high-schoolers disagree with policies in place right now, so why not take 5 minutes every four years, and vote to change it?” Danny also says that he will most definitely be voting in the upcoming election; he “hold[s] a strong stance on many of the issues that [he] hear[s] being spoken about at presidential debates, and [he] want[s] to voice [his] opinions”.

As young people, we all have opinions and voices, and we posess the power to share them with the world. We the youth decide the future. So get involved!! Let’s unify our country, and govern it our way.