Editorials

Help a kid vote; it’ll make you both feel good

Sierra Campbell looks over a ballot as the Sacramento County elections board staged a mock  election at Grant High in 2012. The California Civic Engagement Project says it’s vital to stimulate interest in the elections process among youths who will pay for the political decisions being made now.
Sierra Campbell looks over a ballot as the Sacramento County elections board staged a mock election at Grant High in 2012. The California Civic Engagement Project says it’s vital to stimulate interest in the elections process among youths who will pay for the political decisions being made now. Sacramento Bee file

Tuesday, party buses filled with shirtless male models will shuttle North Carolina State University voters to their polling places, the result of a get-out-the-youth-vote contest by Cosmopolitan magazine.

At Cal State Fullerton, music, free food and a chance to soak student government types in dunk tanks will reward young people who can produce an “I Voted” sticker.

Kids also can groove in the voting booth to a Rock the Vote serenade from rap star Lil Jon featuring “Girls” actor Lena Dunham. Like any number of voting apps, the song, to the tune of Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What,” is readily available online.

Yet, like Dunham and Lil Jon – who, as it turns out, actually didn’t vote the last time they had the chance in a midterm election – only about 1 in 4 voting-age Americans under 29 will cast a ballot, according to a Harvard poll released last week.

That’s pretty much the same dismal youth turnout logged nationally in the last midterm. In California, the numbers may be even more grim, according to Mindy Romero, director of UC Davis’ California Civic Engagement Project: Four years ago, only 18.5 percent of California’s eligible youths voted, she said, and there’s no reason to think Tuesday’s election will improve on that.

Elders have complained about apathy among the young for as long as there have been elders. But participation rates among young voters shouldn’t be this low.

In California, turnout among the 18-24 cohort is weaker than in any other age group, says Romero. Yet, more than any demographic, that generation will pay for the political decisions being made now, from climate change to student loans.

Why don’t they vote? In surveys, the biggest reason they give is that they’re busy. And it is true that coming of age has never been easy. The paltry job market notwithstanding, late adolescence is work.

But there are other reasons as well. Young people are hard to reach. They watch TV online, so they see fewer campaign commercials. They move a lot, so their registration often is out of date. They don’t have landlines, so robo-callers are less likely to find them.

And in California, cultural and demographic trends add to the mix, as children from immigrant and other families without a tradition of high political participation make up an increasing slice of the electorate.

This situation at the very least has implications for civics education, which must be enhanced. Meanwhile, Romero and other experts have a couple of suggestions for today.

“For most youths, their parents aren’t voting, and no one is encouraging them to participate,” Romero wrote in a Bee op-ed on Sunday. So today, as low turnout is decried from one coast to the other, remind a young person to vote, or at least register for next time.

Explain how much is at stake, even for Californians who aren’t boring old people. Then cast your own ballot if you haven’t already.

That, or just hire a party bus full of shirtless male models and point it toward a voting booth near you. Either way.

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