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When discussing the upcoming mid-term elections, it may be difficult for teens to understand the roles they have to play in the major decisions being made and their potential to influence the future of our country.
I’ve always been interested in Presidents and Presidential elections. As a six-year-old, I fell asleep in front of the TV waiting to hear the outcome of the Bush-Kerry race. At age 10, I memorized the names of all the Presidents, backwards and forwards. But I am somewhat of an anomaly. Now 16, I realize that in just two years hundreds of thousands of teenagers like me will be participating in the voting process and will help choose a President.
While the world’s huge teenage population has the potential to influence world politics on a large scale, I was shocked to learn that many eligible young people are not exercising their right to vote. Whether it is because they don’t care or are just too lazy, only 60% of the overall U.S. population exercised their right to vote in the last Presidential election. Of these voters, 19% were young people, among whom the voting rate was only 50% of eligible voters (and that’s in a vote for President, when the interest and voter turnout is at its highest).
When it comes to teens not yet old enough to vote, the statistics are even more dismal. Most teenagers can’t tell you the names of candidates in Senate and Congressional races, let alone describe important ballot measures and amendments to the state constitution. I used to live in The Netherlands where turnout at all ages is routinely over 80%. Governors and state legislatures should focus on increasing voter registration and turnout, not creating barriers to voting.
Three important topics are on the agenda in Oregon this year: (1) Will Governor Kitzhaber be elected for an unprecedented fourth term? (2) Will Marijuana be legalized? (3)Will Oregon change its approach to primary elections? These are all issues that will ultimately shape our futures as voting and nonvoting teenagers. People worldwide are fighting every day to secure the rights and civil liberties guaranteed by a democracy, and our citizens can’t even be bothered to vote. Think about Syria. Think about Egypt. It borders on the ridiculous that we have these liberties and opportunities in the United States but we fail to utilize them to their maximum. People constantly complain about the role and behavior of government, but they then fail to get out and vote.
Teenagers have the power to change this. Our decisions and our voice will, ultimately, shape the future of society. Teens who already have the right to vote should express their voice by voting and encouraging their friends, family, and relatives to do the same. Teenagers who don’t yet have the ability to vote should not check or tune out. Just because teens can’t turn in a ballot, doesn’t mean that they can’t “vote” by making their opinions heard. They need to stay active and engaged in the issues so that when they have the right to vote they can make informed decisions.
It’s not to late to become engaged. Talk to your parents, listen to NPR, check out the Huffington Post. Although some of the beauty of America’s democratic process has been lost in recent years due to an overabundance of partisan gridlock, if teenage and young adult populations participate and demand an increased voice, we can hope to see a government that renews our commitment to traditional American political values and features a politics built on compromise and shared interest in progress.