November 1, 2000
After the 1998 election, a survey of 18- to 24-year-olds conducted by the National Association of Secretaries of State drew this frightening conclusion: We may be witnessing the emergence of a permanent class of non-voters.
In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act, or "Motor Voter" law went into effect. Aimed at young voters especially, Motor Voter proved a stunning success. The idea of registering people to vote as they applied for a driver's license added 11 million new names to the list of registered voters.
But something happened on the way to the voting booth: They didn't come. Although Motor Voter was successful at adding millions to the rolls, the turnout was lower than for any election since 1924. Now we need to get those who've registered to actually go to the polls on Election Day.
Over the course of the past eight years, I have traveled all over the world. Many times I have visited emerging democracies where, just as they did in this country, patriots fought and died for the right to vote. I've met people who have stood in line for hours -- sometimes even days -- to exercise their hard-fought and precious new right.
Why, then, are Americans turning their back on this privilege -- the cornerstone of our democracy?
In 1960, 63 percent of the electorate voted. By 1996, that number had dropped to under 40 percent, leaving us to ask: What will it take to remind the American public that voting is not just a precious right, but in Lyndon Johnson's words, "the first duty of democracy"?
Leading up to this year's election, I have received several letters from newly turned 18-year-olds asking the same question: "Why should I vote?" They are convinced that, in a climate where elections seem to turn on who spends the most money on TV ads, casting a ballot is meaningless. And they are not alone.
In 1998, fewer than one in five 18- to 24-year-olds voted. When asked why by the NASS researchers, they cite a number of reasons: They feel ignored by politicians; they feel their vote doesn't really count; and they say that they don't get the kind of information they need to make an informed decision.
The survey concludes that the single factor that most influences whether a young person will vote is whether his or her parents vote. But almost half of this group reported that they never -- or almost never -- talked about politics, government, or current events with their parents.
There is at least one hopeful sign that might help us bring this generation into the process: More than half of them volunteer on a regular basis, and 94 percent define the most important aspect of citizenship as "helping others." I hope that the trend toward service learning in the schools will provide the opportunity for young people to see that the work they do in their communities, and the issues they care about as a result, can be and are affected by what happens in the voting booth.
There are 70.2 million people in this country under 20. The thought that this huge segment of the population might never bother to vote for President or governor, state legislator or town clerk, is extraordinarily alarming. It is incumbent on those of us who do vote, who do believe in the power of one vote to change history, and who do believe in our system of government to consider very carefully how best to bring them into the political process.
Young people today are doers. According to the survey, they are less pessimistic than their elders, and with the exception of Social Security, they care about many of the same issues: education and violence, the economy and jobs.
If you are skeptical about whether your vote can make a difference, think about this: If indeed you care about education and jobs; if you care about the Supreme Court and individual rights; if you care about hate crimes, the military and foreign policy; if you care about health care and welfare reform, or paying down the national debt; if you care about global warming and protecting the environment, you owe it to yourself and your country to vote.
It doesn't matter if you're black or white, old or young, rich or poor, male or female, Republican or Democrat. Don't throw this precious privilege away. When you wake up next Tuesday, please go vote.
If you'd like to use the Internet to learn more about the candidates and issues, you can start here: www.stateofthevote.org; www.vote-smart.org; www.bettercampaigns.org; www.voter.com; www.speakout.com.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Talking It Over: 2000
December 13, 2000: Column on Trip to Ireland and Vital Voices Announcement
December 6, 2000: Column on Passing Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Bill
November 29, 2000: Column on "An Invitation to the White House: At Home With History"
November 22, 2000: Column on Trip to Vietnam
November 15, 2000: Column on the 200th Anniversary of the White House
November 8, 2000: Column on New York Senate Race
October 25, 2000: Column Urging Congress to Pass Legislation Important to the American People
October 18, 2000: Column on Trafficking of Women and Children
October 11, 2000: Column on Microenterprise for Self-Reliance Act
October 4, 2000: Column on Reauthorization of AmeriCorps National Service Program
September 27, 2000: Column on Reauthorization of VAWA
September 20, 2000: Column on Ritalin
September 13, 2000: Column on Youth Violence and the Entertainment Industry
September 6, 2000: Column on Expanding Healthcare Benefits
August 30, 2000: Column on Making Education Our #1 Priority
August 23, 2000: Column on Pine Ridge, New Markets Tour
August 16, 2000: Column on Decision 2000
August 9, 2000: Column on the Congressional and Presidential Tax Plans
August 2, 2000: Column on Newborn Hearing Screening
July 26, 2000: Column on the 10th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act
July 19, 2000 : Column on Treasures Visit to Ellis Island
July 12, 2000: Column on Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors
July 5, 2000: Column on the Ninth Millennium Evening,
June 27, 2000: Column on Quality Education for Hispanic Youth
June 21, 2000: Column on Save America's Treasures: Val Kil Cottage, New York
June 14, 2000: Column on the Violence Against Women Act
May 31, 2000: Column on National Trails Day
May 24, 2000: Column on National Moment of Remembrance
May 17, 2000: Column on Howard Theater
May 10, 2000: Column on Million Mom March
May 3, 2000: Column on the White House Conference on Teenagers
April 26, 2000: Column on Arbor Day
April 19, 2000: Column on Earth Day
April 12, 2000: Column on International Family Planning
April 5, 2000: Column on Women Entrepreneurs and Microcredit
March 29, 2000: Column on Teen Smoking
March 22, 2000: Column on Pediatric Drugs
March 15, 2000: Column on Child Support
March 8, 2000: Column on Children and Guns
March 1, 2000: Column on Teacher Training, Recruitment and Retention
February 23, 2000: Column on D.C. Campaign to prevent Teen Pregnancy Launch
February 16, 2000: Column on Vital Voices Event at the White House
February 9, 2000: Column on Prescription Drug Coverage
February 2, 2000: Column on Child Care
January 26, 2000: Column on College Opportunity
January 19, 2000: Column on Human Trafficking
January 12, 2000: Column on Housing Vouchers and Affordable Housing
January 5, 2000: Column on the New Millennium
December 20, 2000: Column on Presidential Interagency Council on Women
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