Check all those that apply:
__ I’m registered, but rarely vote.
__ I’m not familiar with the various candidates’ platforms.
__ I don’t know how or where to register.
__ The only “chad” I know about is the creep who stole my lunch money in third grade.
__ It seems to me that all politicians are liars and cheats, so I figure, what’s the difference?
__ Elections are this year?
I confess. I didn’t vote in the 2000 presidential election. Go on. Shake your head in disgust. It’s shameful, I know. The above list is my practiced defense. I’m a slacker. I’m lazy, uninformed and apathetic.
I’m also not alone. A study showed that from 1972 to 1996, voter turnout dropped from 50 percent to 32 percent among 18 to 24 year olds and from 71 percent to 49 percent among 25 to 44 year olds.
Various elections took place during my four years as an undergrad. I can remember climbing the stairs in the liberal arts building, looking up sheepishly at the table on the landing. There they were — my bright-eyed, politically active fellow students equipped with voter registration forms. Could they have made it any easier for me?
But the future senators sitting at that table were a different breed than me. I was patriotic. I wore my American flag T-shirt on the fourth of July. But I wasn’t a fanatic. I didn’t want to discuss foreign policy in the cafeteria. I wasn’t scrawling “Vote Nader” on the sidewalks with chalk.
How could they be so passionate? They intimidated me. Somehow this enormous world of politics didn’t confuse and overwhelm them. Somehow they believed that they could make the nation better by checking a box. I knew I would never possess their fervor, so I gave up.
Others shared my apathy. A January 2000 survey by the Panetta Institute found college students are less likely to vote than the population at large. More than four in 10 (43 percent) of eligible students admit they did not vote in the Presidential election of 1996. Two-thirds (66 percent) of eligible students say they failed to turn out for the elections of 1998.
The study also found that students are significantly less cynical about politics and government than their elders; they simply tend to view politics as irrelevant to their lives and to the issues they care about. Only 27 percent of students said they follow politics “most of the time,” and only 27 percent discuss politics at least three times a week.
There are plenty of excuses for why we don’t care and hastily brush politics off as irrelevant, but it’s time we give ourselves a kick in the pants and figure out why we should get informed and involved. I know I’m sick of being the clueless one.
The first order of business is realizing that the issues do affect us, and we, in turn, can impact their outcomes. We have the chance to influence how much we pay in taxes, but all we do is complain when we get our paycheck. We moan that our country is going down the tubes, with abortion rates at an all-time high, when we don’t use the power we have to elect men and women that want to see it outlawed. Consider all the issues in schools alone: prayer, sex education, the dispensation of contraceptives, creation versus evolution … the list goes on.
From money to morals, we have the ability to point our country in a direction, or we can just stand by and let others determine that direction — which is a scary thought with all the destructive ideologies out there.
The second order of business is taking that inner belief that politics matter and turning it into action. We’ve compiled some steps to take you from Internet research to the voter booth.
The first step to impacting culture through the political process is registering to vote. It’s half the battle.
“Most people who are registered to vote actually vote,” said Amie Jamieson, a co-author of Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2000. “Historically, the likelihood of actually voting, once registered, has remained high, with the peak at 91 percent in 1968.”
Deadlines to register normally fall at the end of September of the election year. While it’s too late to register for this year’s congressional vote, find out now how to register for 2004’s presidential election. Check this site for a detailed list of state deadlines and websites to download registration forms.
The next step is getting informed. Don’t rely on grossly distorted, mud-slinging commercials to find out about your candidates. While the candidates’ platforms are outlined on their respective websites (type in their names on Google), look to a reputable news service or your local paper. Remember local papers will endorse specific candidates in their Op/Ed sections, so make sure you know if you’re reading a news story or an editorial about a candidate when gleaning information.
Or forget all that research and let the Christian Coalition hand it to you on a silver platter. On this site, you can download voter guides for your county that provide easy-to-read tables detailing the candidates’ platforms and stands on issues. It really doesn’t get any easier than this.
[GET OVER TO THE POLL]
The third step is the easiest: Show up and vote. After you’re registered to vote, you will be notified through the mail where your local polls are held. Normally, it’s a nearby church or school.
Once Nov. 5 has passed, that doesn’t mean that politics cease to matter until the next election year. It’s not like cramming for a test. The knowledge you have of what’s happening in politics will influence others all year round, which in turn affects the shaping of our country.
Read or watch the news regularly. Then when election time rolls around again, voting will be natural and easy. And you’ll be able to face those political fanatics with some confidence.[ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CARA BAKER]
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