I walked into the Abundant Life Assembly of God church on Stelling Road Tuesday to cast my first ballot. Having just turned 18 six months ago, I was excited to finally be able to exercise my voting rights and take part in the great political conversation. I rushed from school after graduation practice ended while anticipating lines at the polls, but for the whole 20 minutes I was there, I was the only one there.
Later, I ended up driving past that church again, and the same empty parking lot greeted me with the lonely “VOTE HERE” signs swaying in the wind.
I can’t help but think of all my friends who are 18, citizens, and registered to vote already. They fervently voted in mock elections hosted by the school and debated on ballot issues in class, but when it comes their turn to make a difference, where are they?
In a 2010 survey by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, the demographic that shows the lowest percentage of voter turnout is the 18 to 24 age group. A pathetic 21 percent of young people eligible to vote showed up at the polls in 2010, which shows how little of an impact our generation has on the political conversation. What dismays me even more is that low turnout is unchanging from election to election.
In comparison to the turnout of voters ages 65 and up, which consistently hovers around 60 to 70 percent each election, our voter turnout shows holes in the democratic process. To not vote basically equates to allowing others to make decisions for you. Now, P. Diddy’s Vote or Die campaign in 2006 starts to make sense a bit, right?
Though one may argue that 2010 was a midterm year, and naturally voter turnout is low in non-presidential elections, we can expect similar numbers this June during the California Primary Elections, which will consist of the Republican Presidential Primaries, the voting of ballot measures, and the election of local and nonpartisan officials, such as former Cupertino council member Kris Wang’s bid for Santa Clara County Supervisor and current Cupertino council member 's bid for the same seat. Although California is predominantly a Democratic state, and most families will not vote for a Republican presidential nominee, state-level issues and election still matter very much.
The problem at hand, however, isn’t that the youth is apathetic about political issues. Young people are the driving forces behind issues such as gay marriage and education cuts, but there simply is not enough election awareness. Administration, teachers, and student groups should actively assist eligible students to register to vote through assisting with registration or sending home flyers notifying parents about upcoming elections.
Having schools help raise voter turnout by assisting in registering eligible seniors is a win-win situation: it is the duty of schools to foster politically attentive citizens, and with this development starting alongside social science curriculum we can help students realize their duty to their country—one of which is to vote.
What we vote for when we are young is most likely to impact us later as that’s when it will be put into effect. A vote during the primaries isn’t removed from our lives—it’s a vote for our future.
The process of encouraging youth to vote, however, is already underway. For example, Monta Vista High School government teacher Benjamin Recktenwald actively encourages students to engage in the political process, and he keeps a stack of voter registration forms in his classroom. What is needed on top of this is the instilling of initiative within the student body and their parents when school starts again in August.
Even though eligible voting student populations in high schools are very small, promoting political participation in the long run will greatly benefit society and enable a generation of attentive citizens to realize the need to take political decisions into their own hands. Though it’s too late for this recent election, if we follow through with such a plan, we will have no excuse to say that we were not well prepared for Election Day in November.
Elvin Wong is a graduating senior at Monta Vista High School and a Patch contributor.