May 27, 2009

Get 'Em Ready To Vote While They Are Young

AS A key element in what is welcome progress toward universal voter registration, a movement is growing within the states to swing the doors of our democracy wide open, encouraging and facilitating the active participation of young people in the electoral process. From education, to access, to advance registration, more and more legislators and public officials are doing their part to invite young people into the process and kick start habits that can last a lifetime.

When it comes to the political participation of young people, we have come to assume a certain ceiling of enthusiasm; a kind of minimum threshold of apathy that is factored into our expectations. Though last year's presidential campaigns directed significant attention to young voters, and despite having a candidate on both major party tickets imbued with youthfulness and pop culture savvy, actual youth turnout saw only a modest bump from 2004; about 1.5 percentage points according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). Though voters between 18 and 24 were 12.6% of the voting age population, they made up only 9.5% of those who actually voted.

The importance of encouraging youth participation in our democracy is difficult to overstate, and it is in our interest to avoid becoming apathetic about apathy. According to a 2003 study by Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green and Ron Shachar in the American Journal of Political Science and Mark Franklin's seminal 2004 book on turnout, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, there is a great deal of evidence indicating that participation in one's youth is highly predictive of future participation; in other words, voting is best made into an unkickable habit early in life. We are a country that values the long-term health of our democracy. In hoping that as many people as possible for generations to come will keep themselves informed and reliably take part in elections, we need to take active steps to get young people civically educated, registered, and voting.

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