Disengaged: Election? So What…

Young voters fail to exercise their right to vote

By Stacey Ritz

“I don’t plan on registering to vote because the choices in the election are terrible. I feel like participating in a corrupt system defeats the point of real change,” shared Jessie Downey, a 21-year-old Dayton resident.

With today’s easy accessibility to around-the-clock news, why aren’t more young professionals taking an interest in following the politics of our nation? Is it because the issues don’t pertain to them specifically? Or is it the feeling that their voice doesn’t count? Is it widely believed that our system is so broken and beyond repair that by disengaging altogether young voters are refusing to acknowledge its legitimacy in their lives? Or is it simply generational apathy?

In an informal survey conducted near the campuses of Wright State University and the University of Dayton, 78 percent of potential young voters expressed a strong lack of interest in the 2012 election and towards politics in general. So what can politicians do to engage young voters?  Is there anything? 25-year-old registered voter Kelly Fisher commented, “I am just not that in to politics.” However, Fisher felt that she should start taking an interest in local issues, as she is now a homeowner. “I guess local issues would be the most important to me. Being a homeowner, I want to make sure that I am in a nice community with a good school district.” Fisher explained that the upcoming presidential election will be her first election to exercise her right to vote. “I have been registered since I was 21, but I have never really been interested in voting. I didn’t know exactly where my polling place was. I also have never taken time to research any issues on the ballot. I do not want to vote for things I have no clue about. However, this will be my first election to vote in because it is the presidential election.  I was sent an option to register for absentee voting so I am doing that. I like the fact that I can vote from my own home and I don’t have to go out and drive somewhere after work just to vote.” If Fisher wouldn’t have received the absentee ballot in the mail, she may have chosen to not cast her vote as she has done in the past. If more young professionals were aware of the absentee ballot process – would they be more likely to vote?

“It’s important to volunteer your skills by talking on Facebook, using Twitter or blogs. Being active is a lifelong gift to yourself and your country, but it really starts locally,” shared Doris Adams, Greene County Democratic Party Chairman. While volunteering for your local party headquarters can be a rewarding experience, how do you become involved in politics when you are not sure what party aligns with your own personal beliefs?

“Encouraging young voters to become active in the election process is extremely important. Anyone who is of age within our country needs to extend their right to vote in every election. Researching candidates and supporting the candidate with similar interests of the voter also needs to take place. This election year is extremely important for voters ages 18-30,” explained Kenneth Henning, Clayton City Councilman and Montgomery County Young Republicans Chairman. “Technology plays an extremely important role in modern elections. Social media is extremely important to both of the main parties. It is a way of connecting to millions of people. Even apps for cell phones are becoming extremely popular in this election. Technology engages young voters to share their thoughts about candidates with their friends in a way they may not in person.” While it is true that potential young voters are using social media in record numbers, is technology really making a difference to young voters or are they ignoring the political facts being flashed before them day after day?

Mark Owens, Chariman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party explained, “We reach out to younger voters in a number of ways. We have a very active Young Democrats organization. We also reach out to the local college campuses. The University of Dayton, Wright State and Sinclair all have active College Democrat clubs on campus.”

If the local headquarters of both major political parties feel that young voters are active and engaged, what issues are actually pulling youth towards one party versus another?

A 24-year-old Dayton resident, Laura Beatty discussed her stance on politics. “I am registered to vote as a Democrat. People keep telling me that there are issues on the ballot that will directly affect me, but it’s just not interesting to me. There are many other things I would rather be doing instead of spending my time reading about politics. I may vote in the upcoming election, but I haven’t decided yet.” Beatty is an avid technology user with Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, however, she shared that she does not follow any politicians/candidates or specific issues on social media sites.

Technology has not played a role in Eric Stevens’ voting history. At age 29, Stevens has voted once. A registered Republican and Dayton homeowner, Stevens works in the restaurant business. When voting in a previous election, Stevens shared that he voted only because he felt that a particular issue affected him directly, in his line of work. “When the issue of banning smoking in restaurants was on the ballot … that’s when I voted.” Stevens feels that he will likely vote in the upcoming presidential election, but is still uncertain.

In September 2012, the Dayton Daily News published an article titled, “Enthusiasm wanes among crucial young voters” written by Laura A. Bischoff and Meagan Pant. Bischoff and Pant stated, “Young voters gave Barack Obama a big boost in the 2008 presidential election when a highly energized group of twenty-somethings accounted for 18 percent of all ballots cast.” So what’s different during this presidential election? What’s changed? Where is the enthusiasm among the twenty-somethings now? The article continued by quoting Geoffrey Skelly, political analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, “Obama is touting the part of his health care law that allows children to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26, his efforts to limit student loan debt and his stance of social issues such as gay marriage … Romney’s message is much simpler: He’s telling young voters, ‘I can fix the economy.’”

If the enthusiasm among young voters has truly deflated, what can politicians do now, and in the future, to engage young voters? Jessie Downey, a 21-year-old Dayton resident feels that her enthusiasm hasn’t lessened; instead it never existed in the realm of politics. As an unregistered voter, Downey explained that there isn’t anything the current presidential candidates can do at this point to win her vote. She won’t be voting. However, in terms of future politics, Downey shared that there are some ways that politicians can grab her attention – and possibly her vote. “I would like to see more opportunities given for entrepreneurs. I would also like to see politicians and the government in-general spend more time talking and working towards the unity of our people as a country and as a species.” But how politicians will accomplish these tasks are unclear to Downey.

In an article published by The New Republic in February of 2012, titled “The Surprising Trends That Suggest Young People Won’t Vote in 2012,” writer Cheryl Russell stated, “Recent years have seen Americans in their twenties delay starting careers, getting married and buying homes – and as the road to adulthood has lengthened, voting rates among the young have generally fallen (the notable exceptions are 2004 and 2008). Now, the bad economy is exacerbating these trends. For the nation’s young, the Great Recession has turned money, marriage and homeownership into an impossible dream.” Is that all really true? Do young voters feel that they are being forced to delay their life plans because of politics? If they feel this way, why are they not angry and therefore more active in the political process? If young voters feel that politicians are affecting their lives in such a negative way, why are they not lining up in record numbers to change their personal future?

If you’re ready to line up and cast your vote, the General Election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6. In Montgomery County, polls are open on Election Day from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Where can you vote? www.mcohio.org will supply you with a detailed list of polling locations in addition to a breakdown of the current issues and candidates.  Wright State University student Courtni Beavers is excited to cast her vote on Nov. 6 and shared, “Yes, I am registered to vote this year and I will definitely be going to the polls to vote on Election Day.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”  The issues in this election encompass a wide range, from pro-life versus pro-choice to the funding and power of our United States military to marriage equality. In every election cycle there are issues that personally impact each of us in some way. Your voice, whether you choose to use it or not, will speak volumes about the direction our country is about to take. How do you want to shape the future? Young voters have the power to decide.  Will you step up and cast your vote and take a stance? The choice is yours and the future can be too. As college student Tim Duffy shared on the Voting Rights and Citizenship website, “If we can vote for the best performer on the TV show “American Idol,’ we should certainly vote in elections that profoundly affect our future.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Stacey Ritz at StaceyRitz@daytoncitypaper.com

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