The voting process in Oregon is one of the easiest in the nation. Unfortunately, many people still don’t participate in one of the most fundamental practices of the United States.
Ballots for the primary were distributed by mail last week. I was excited because it is my first election in Oregon. As someone who is not registered with either of the two big parties, my choices are somewhat limited and uncontroversial. However, I am happy to participate in the entire process. Apparently, my excitement isn’t shared by other people, especially those of my generation.
Voting rates are lower during primary and general elections than a presidential election. Gubernatorial and initiative elections usually lack the excitement of a presidential election. Primaries may seem unimportant because you’re deciding who is going to run in the next election. They are important because it is a form of citizen participation. Voters only get these few chances to be heard: take advantage of it.
The lack of glamour or intense debate doesn’t make these elections any less important. In many ways, these elections are more important because they affect citizens on a more direct level. Although neither of Oregon’s U.S. senators is up for re-election this year, the control of the U.S. House of Representatives could swing to the Democrats. Many of the potential initiatives for the November election, from parental consent in the case of a minor seeking an abortion, to extended medical care for all Oregon residents, to term limits, are somewhat contentious. Unfortunately, recent history shows that the interest in voting is dwindling. I fear that voting percentages will be in the single digits within the next 50 years.
The 2000 and 2004 presidential election results are just a few reasons why many young people say they stopped voting. I have talked to many people who were extremely disappointed with the initial election, then re-election, of George W. Bush as president. The Supreme Court decision in 2000 that awarded the presidency to Bush over Al Gore made people question the validity of their own votes. Voter advocacy groups targeted young people in 2004, hoping that Bush would lose the presidency to John Kerry. The strategy didn’t work, and Bush is currently serving his second term in office.
More young people voted in 2004 than in 2000, but both years had less young voters than in the 1996 election, when Bill Clinton won a second term for president. Historically, the younger generations are less likely to vote than those of retirement age. The turnout of 20-somethings is even less during general elections.
The statistics are depressing. We complain that we don’t vote because no one listens, but we aren’t making any noise. It’s a continuous argument: politicians don’t cater to the younger generations because they don’t vote, and younger generations don’t vote because politicians don’t cater to them. The younger generations are waiting for the other party to make the first move. We argue that when politicians start talking about policies that matter to us, we will start voting.
Lazy strategies don’t work. Social Security and healthcare are important issues during the election because they are important to the baby boomer generation, the one generation that always votes. If we start voting in record numbers, politicians will listen to us.
It sounds idealistic, but if those of us in our 20s and 30s started voting, we could hold the system accountable. The 2000 and 2004 election results led to reports of voter machine discrepancies and minority disenfranchisement. The civil rights movement taught us something important about voting: if we do it in record numbers, the politicians will pay attention.
The system to register is cumbersome, but statistics only account for the registered voters who don’t participate in the elections. I registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when I first moved to Oregon. I waited six months to receive my card, which was excessive. I am definitely going to vote in every single election because I deserve it after the long wait. It’s an easy process, after all, since they mail the ballot to you.
Voting is the best way to be heard by the government. Many countries don’t allow participation in the system. It may not be perfect, but the only way to change it is by getting involved.