Youth voting enables us to shape our future

Free pizza! If this is what you got for voting, the polls might be a very different place. In the 1998 elections, only three in 10 young people voted. Why is it so few young people turn out to the polls every year? There are many possible reasons: lack of election information, not enough time to do the research on candidates, candidates not addressing the issues of young people, and the feeling your vote doesn’t matter.

“Election what?” This is the response I often receive when telling students about the upcoming election. Lack of media coverage on the elections could be one of the reasons why some voters will not show up at the polls this year. It is really important we have easy access to information about the election and the candidates themselves, so we can make informed decisions about who we want to run our city.

One thing is for sure, it is not lack of caring that stops students from getting out the vote. Actually, a majority of young people are involved with community service programs. A Harvard study showed 85 percent of young people think community service, not politics, is the answer to local problems. The idea is community service shows young people direct results. They can see how their work and dedication to an issue make a difference in other people’s lives.

Community service is a necessary part of a healthy community, but so is political involvement. We need to make sure politicians address these concerns at the root of the problems. We must look also toward the systemic injustices that cause the daily problems confronting our communities today and focus some of our energies at that level if we really want to alleviate social harms. Young adults must recognize casting a vote is like forcing the candidate to work on the issues of concern to our generation.

I used to think politics was just something the adults in my family argued about during holiday dinners. My grandfather always has had his own conspiracy theories on politicians and the government in general. I always ignored these conversations because I didn’t think any of it applied to me.

Whenever the issue of voting entered the conversations I had with my friends, which it seldom did, we all agreed politicians did not speak to us. We would see commercials where candidates would talk about how they were going to get prescription drugs covered under Medicare and Medicaid. Of course this is a very important issue, but we just didn’t see how it applied to us; so we just didn’t go out and vote. We figured, what’s the point? What we did not think about though was the fact politicians pay attention to senior citizens because they are a voting bloc.

Politicians want to get elected, so they are going to frame their issues toward the people who vote. A majority of our generation does not currently vote, so the politicians do not focus their attention on our issues. This is a mutual cycle of neglect that must be addressed by politicians and young adults. One of the ways we can address the mutual cycle of neglect is to actually go out and vote; then we cannot be ignored.

As my views on politics started to change, I began to pay more attention to the city I grew up in. I realized there are so many things in need of improvement in Minneapolis. When I look at many of the issues being addressed in politics today – affordable housing, neighborhood and downtown development, racial profiling, public safety, environment, education and tax reform – I realized this is me; this is us.

Local elections deal with issues that affect all of us in our daily lives. From feeling safe to a decent transportation system, we must make our future leaders accountable to our needs. Voting is one way we as young adults can gain a voice in what happens in our communities and our daily lives. The more young adults participate in elections, the more we will begin to have a city and country that look and function in a way that meets our needs. Voting is power.

MN Youth Vote, a nonpartisan coalition dedicated to breaking the barriers between young people and the political process, is bringing the candidates for mayor to us. On Oct. 17, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and R.T. Rybak will be at the Humphrey Institute’s Cowles Auditorium from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. They will be answering student questions.

Now is the time to speak out for the issues we as young people feel are important in our lives. This is a great opportunity for us to use our voice and tell Sayles Belton and Rybak we are interested in what happens in our city. On Nov. 6, you probably won’t get free pizza for turning out to the polls, but you will get a whole lot more. Informed voting by our generation on Nov. 6 will ensure we are included in the future of our city.

After the tragedies of Sept. 11, many people are wondering what they can do to make a difference in their communities and in our country. By voicing your opinions at the Oct. 17 mayoral forum and voting in this year’s elections, you can be a much needed catalyst for change. Together we can make an impact; the choice is ours.


Megan Wolff is the MPIRG youth vote task force leader and a junior in the College of Liberal Arts. Send
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