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First Vote.
September 7, 2002 11:05 AM   Subscribe

First Vote. In May, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jane Eisner invented an interesting new concept: First Vote. It's not an organization, it's not a corporation, it's not a club -- First Vote is a concept. Eisner attributes low turnount in part to a societal lack of recognition and congratuations on the occasion of an 18-year-old's first vote. Syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne picked up the idea and ran with it, offering a refined proposal for change in an August column. Is First Vote on the right track to improving youth voting? What will you do to support First Vote this November?
posted by waldo (37 comments total)

 
I love Eisner's original idea. E.J. Dionne's additional spin is absolutely horrendous. Glorify the U.S.'s bloated, self-serving major political parties at the expense of encouraging kids to register as Independents? What is that woman smoking?
posted by mediareport at 11:27 AM on September 7, 2002


Voting is a privilege to affect one's governance, a right one at great expense, not a burden or a duty one should be applauded for fulfilling. I cannot see any social benefit, whatever, of encouraging teenagers too ignorant or apathetic to cherish that right on their own, to vote, when they are prohibitively unlikely to have done the due diligence necessary to vote with any kind of social responsibility, or even enlightened self-interest.

The kind of teenagers I want to vote are those who have desperately wanted to vote since they were nine years old, and who registered when still 17 to be sure they'd be eligible to vote on the very moment of their 18th birthday.
posted by MattD at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2002


Great idea, long overdue. I really hope this catches on.

Since most 18 yr olds are still in high school how about a 1/2 day for them on election day? Bus them to the polls then after voting congratulate them and give them the rest of the day off.
posted by keithl at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2002


...sorry, a right won at great expense...
posted by MattD at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2002


The kind of teenagers I want to vote are those who have desperately wanted to vote since they were nine years old

Good point. Let's take a second to think about how we can encourage that attitude in more 9-year-olds. I know! How about if we start widespread public celebrations honoring the moment of a young citizen's first time in the voting booth? We could call it something like First Vote! ;)
posted by mediareport at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2002


MattD, you don't that it's possible that somebody could be sufficiently educated on the importance of voting after the age of, say, 9? Is voting a privilege that should be reserved for those that have politically-active parents, and those that attended elementary schools in sufficiently affluent areas that civics classes not merely existed, but made voting seem exciting?

Or maybe you're right. Maybe, in order to assure that only the people that are really impassioned about voting vote (because, hey, why would we want all of these idiots voting?), let's put up some more obstacles beyond the current lack of education. How about a reading test? No, no, I've got it -- a poll tax! Yes, that seems good. After all, anybody that's not willing to spend $10 on this hard-won right is probably "too ignorant or apathetic to cherish that right on their own." Right?
posted by waldo at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2002


Virtually all teens and young adults love the sound of the words "Let's have a party!"

As much as I like the idea of voting being lauded among youth, it's hard to stomach a sentence like the above. Yes, those wacky kids love a party, but once you drag in authority figures and throw in a political/governmental side, a lot of the joy goes out of it. It's still a little amusing to think of all night voting keggers, though. That said, I do agree that it'd be nice if the act of voting was more conspicuous.
posted by redsparkler at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2002


MattD, for what its worth. I have a few friends that "winged it" at the polls the first time out. Next year when the voters and proposition guide (i live in California) came in the mail instead of throwing it in the trash they took the time to read it and make educated choices the next year.
posted by keithl at 11:59 AM on September 7, 2002


I don't understand why it's desirable to have as many people as possible vote. This seems a lot less important than whether the people voting actually care, and have thought the issues through.

I think one reason voter turnout in the U.S. is low these days, is because the U.S. is a pretty decent place to live, so people don't see politics as the most important tool for improving their lives. There is also the fact that the ideological gap between the two major parties is pretty narrow, so voting makes little practical difference.

This is in stark contrast with younger democracies that still have fresh memories of totalitarian rule, and where the risk of being back in a police state are very real. (And please, spare me the Bush rant - I don't like his policies either but I grew up in a real police state).

Seen in that light, low voter turnout is a healthy sign.

However, I do think voter turnout will be higher this year and in the next presidential election. We now do have important and divisive issues facing the country that candidates will substantively disagree on.
posted by maciej at 12:04 PM on September 7, 2002


Seen in that light, low voter turnout is a healthy sign.
I disagree. The more people voting the more representative our democracy will be. I think the low turnout by younger voters reflects a sense of frustration that they can't change anything anyway so why bother?
posted by keithl at 12:10 PM on September 7, 2002


Also maciej, If you've come to United States, welcome my friend.
posted by keithl at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2002


I thought that the reason that 'young people' don't vote is because they don't think about consequences. It's the same reason why they drink drive, take drugs, participate in dangerous sports, etc. If you just want them to vote, pay them to do so.

It is far more worrying that democratic participation is dropping across all ages - not for any attachment to representative democracy (which I think is a sham), but because if people become disillusioned with voting then they will become more likely to adopt other means to affect society.
posted by daveg at 12:44 PM on September 7, 2002


What a bag of fetid dung.
posted by flatlander at 12:59 PM on September 7, 2002


I think one reason voter turnout in the U.S. is low these days, is because the U.S. is a pretty decent place to live ... This is in stark contrast with younger democracies that still have fresh memories of totalitarian rule

Can't agree with that. I live in Denmark, which by most standards, along with the other Scandinavian countries, is a prettty decent place as well. The Danish political spectrum is also quite narrow; in spite of this, voter turnout is one of the highest in the world (around 85%). I think the low voter turnout in the US has a lot to do with the political system at large.

I think voter turnout is somewhat proportional to how well the individual voter is represented in the national parliament - although I have nothing to back it up. I also doubt the 50 million or so Gore-voters from 2000 are particularly encouraged to vote the next time around. I hope I'm proven wrong.

(On preview: daveg: what an awful thing to say. I think the reason young people drink and drive, do drugs etc. is existential anxiety. Also, I'm a young person, and I don't do drugs.)
posted by Hjorth at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2002


One problem with U.S. elections is the amount of voting. Switzerland has the lowest voter turnout of any western democracy. It also has endless elections, referenda and initiatives, etc. The U.S. has federal, state and local elections, and they do not take place at the same time. In local elections, you vote in different precincts. I could go on. Congressional elections come every two years, senatorial every six. Then there are special elections, and bond issue votes, etc. People experience voting fatigue.

That said, all the usual suspects - including a failure to see voting as central to what our society is all about, despite the talk of loving democracy, and just plain laziness - apply. Things would also be better if we had a voting holiday, or could vote on weekends, or do so away from the precincts somehow (phone, Net, etc.).

Also, please keep in mind that in the U.S., it's perfectly legal to abstain from voting. It's not in many other western democracies.
posted by raysmj at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2002


Also, please keep in mind that in the U.S., it's perfectly legal to abstain from voting. It's not in many other western democracies.

Huh? Which ones would they be, then?
posted by normy at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2002


What a bag of fetid dung.

Yes, I see. That bag you're holding is indeed quite full of fetid dung. Very nice. Is there any particular reason you brought it here?
posted by mediareport at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2002


Hjorth: sorry if I offended you - do you think that existential anxiety is the reason why teens have unprotected sex, joy-ride, take up smoking, etc, etc.

(By the way, was there a tacit confession to drink driving and dangerous sports in your post?)
posted by daveg at 1:49 PM on September 7, 2002


Normy: It's called compulsory voting.
posted by raysmj at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2002


raysmj:
Compulsory voting is not the same as saying it is illegal to abstain. Compulsory voting means you have to turn up at the poll, but you are not necessarily obliged to vote for a particular party or candidate. In Australia, for example, I understand that there is a space on the ballot to mark your abstention.

Are you specifically aware of any 'democracy' where one is explicitly obliged to vote for someone or something?
posted by normy at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2002


Boy, that's being nitpicky enough. By abstaining from voting I simply meant not voting at all.
posted by raysmj at 2:05 PM on September 7, 2002


Definition of abstain.
posted by raysmj at 2:06 PM on September 7, 2002


What you call 'nitpicky', I would call a very important distinction of democratic principle.
posted by normy at 2:10 PM on September 7, 2002


Oh, whatever. Not a whole lot of people are going to show up, if required to vote, and not vote for a single candidate or in favor or against a certain issue. I've refrained from voting in one individual race before, but not a whole ballot. And my point in bringing that up was that voter turnout is higher in many countries because of compulsory voting - consequently, direct comparisons with the U.S. are to some degree unfair. As for my opinion of compulsory voting, I'm not so sure about it, and lean toward the side of thinking it's not a good thing.
posted by raysmj at 2:14 PM on September 7, 2002


In modern Greece, as in ancient times, voting is compulsory. You may vote for whomever, you can vote for your favorite cartoon character for prime minister, you may cast a blank ("abstain") ballot if you like. But you have to turn up and vote. Not that anybody fines you or anything if you don't, but the law says that you must.

The idea is, I forgot what old Greek said it, I think it was Socrates, that Citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Citizenship must be earned in order to be of value. And the only way to earn your Citizenship is to cast your opinion, lest you disavow responsibility for the actions of the Republic.
posted by costas at 2:22 PM on September 7, 2002


do you think that existential anxiety is the reason why teens have unprotected sex, joy-ride, take up smoking, etc, etc. [?]

Yes I do.

was there a tacit confession to drink driving and dangerous sports in your post?

Heh, I see what you mean. But no, no confession. I won't be driving for the next couple of years, and the most dangerous sport I've participated in is soccer without shinguards.
posted by Hjorth at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2002


Regarding raysmj and compulsory voting: I think it's a good idea. But voting is completely voluntary in Scandinavia - and voter turnouts are still much higher than in the US.
posted by Hjorth at 3:00 PM on September 7, 2002


Also don't forget the small but dedicated group of Americans protesting the very idea of representative democracy by not showing up at the polls.

Am I the only one who wants to throttle the little old ladies set up at card tables shouting at me to register to vote while I'm leaving the grocery?
posted by cadastral at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2002


I just have Justice Scalia cast my vote for me. Saves so much time.
posted by RavinDave at 4:54 PM on September 7, 2002


I'd prefer to make (federal) election day a national holiday and modernize the voting system enough that it can be done by kiosk in malls and post offices. I vote, but I think most young people still consider it too much of a hassle.
posted by gsteff at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2002


One problem with U.S. elections is the amount of voting. Switzerland has the lowest voter turnout of any western democracy. It also has endless elections, referenda and initiatives, etc.

Yes, but if you compare presidential (or comparative federal elections) across countries, America's turnout is the worst. Also, there is a direct relationship between turnout and the number of political parties on the ballot.

....

This thread is so enlightening. I'm just about to embark on a journey to get youth to out to the polls this November.

Thanks for great links and great discussion.
posted by jennak at 6:01 PM on September 7, 2002


> Virtually all teens and young adults love
>the sound of the words "Let's have a party!"

They'd like it better if it were a rap.
posted by holloway at 6:01 PM on September 7, 2002


it sure sounds good on paper, but to be honest, as an 18 year old who is going to vote for the first time come november, i wouldn't want my name read on the radio and i sure as hell wouldn't attend any voting parties.
posted by joedan at 6:52 PM on September 7, 2002


I have participated in all sorts of unprotected sex, drugs, & drunk driving in my day. Let me be the first to assure you it had nothing whatsoever to do with existential anything. I always find it very amusing when folks who have never done drugs spout off about the reasons other folks participate in that behavior.

First Vote sounds like a great proposal as long as it doesn't become some huge social guilt trip. Some may not be interested in some sort of social recognition for their first vote. But then again some may. And if such recognition helps edge someone towards a poll on a day when life is busy and voting is inconvenient then it can only help.

In my family we have the same tradition. When I voted the first time I got a congratulatory call from my parents followed by an invite to a restaurant dinner of my choice as a small congrats from my elders on coming of age and participating in the life of the nation. Obviously this can be taken too far but in my family it works very well as every member of my extended family votes in the majority of elections and we are all informed and educated enough to make our own decisions intelligently.

In my family my child will get the same call from me when she first votes followed by an invite to a dinner of her choice. Perhaps it has no meaning, perhaps it's a bribe but when all is said and done it makes one small part of politically active family with many voting members.

I think its a big mistake to assume that someone is going to vote with out any forethought so they can have a big "party". I believe those kinds of parties, sanctioned by adults, die out in elementary school. Noone in my peer group would have voted so they could have some kind of government sanctioned party. I can't imagine it is any different among youth now. So I'd wager any critiques of the proposal based on such a theory has got to be bogus.
posted by filchyboy at 8:38 PM on September 7, 2002


"Since most 18 yr olds are still in high school how about a 1/2 day for them on election day? Bus them to the polls then after voting congratulate them and give them the rest of the day off."

The schools in my county give all the students election day off. In hopes that not only will the eligible students vote, but, the teachers, as well.

I registered to vote at school, prior to my 18th birthday, voted in my first local election the month after turning 18. I haven't missed a primary, local, state, or federal election since then.

I also worked the polls from the time I was 16 in local, state, and federal elections, until just a year or two ago. I only stopped due to being disabled.

One of the main reasons, I am so involved, is due to my government and history teachers in high school. They encouraged us to become involved in the process in multiple ways.
posted by SuzySmith at 4:40 AM on September 8, 2002


Which ones would they be, then?

Australia, for one. You understand wrongly about "a place to mark your abstention", there's no such thing. You can write "bollocks" on the ballot if you want to, but you get fined if you don't turn up. Absent a government representative looking over your shoulder while you vote (obviously ridiculous), forcing people to turn up and have their names marked off a list is the only way to have compulsory voting. I disagree that it's a "distinction of democratic principle".

As for compulsory voting in principle, it's a lousy idea IMO. Why would you want input from people who don't care enough to vote without being coerced?
posted by sennoma at 5:08 AM on September 8, 2002


I think the thing that this discussion is missing is that modern America doesn't have any real "coming of age ritual". "First Vote" could be significant for that reason.

My Dad took me to register for the draft and the vote a couple days after my 18th birthday. We had lunch together first. He didn't make too much of a big deal about it, but it was very clear that he was welcoming me into adulthood, and pairing my responsibility to potentially die defending my country and vote for it's leaders.

Both my parents made a big deal about talking about the issues and candidates that were at issue in the first election after I turned 18, and made sure that I participated in the conversation.
posted by jonnyp at 7:08 AM on September 8, 2002


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