To All of The Individual Citizens of the United States of America ages 18 through 20,

If you have not been paying attention to anything and/or actively ignoring any conversation that has the word “voting” in it, then I am telling you now that the 2012 Presidential Election is happening in November, of well, 2012. Now you’re probably thinking that this is going to be a boring list of reasons that have nothing to do with you about why you should vote and why it is so important. Half of that is true, yes it is a list of reasons, but I will try to make this as exciting as possible. Yes, I will be throwing out some statistics and some confusing issues that I don’t completely understand, but for the most part, pay attention because these issues affect you. Maybe they won’t affect you directly, but I would bet my life that these issues will directly affect someone you know and care about. So it is in your best interest to pay attention, not just to me, but to what is being written about in the news and shown on television screens. The Founding Fathers thought the masses (a.k.a. you and I) lacked the intelligence and ability to make sound decisions. Now you can either prove them right, or you can close facebook, twitter and tumblr and take the time to understand what’s really going on and how you can make a difference with your vote.

First off, I’d like to say that I am part of the 18-20 year old voter demographic. I am 19 years old and I previously did not think that voting was important. I once participated in this program called “Kid Votes!” in 2000 and voted for Al Gore because he had a cuter dog than George W. Bush. As a nineteen year old in her second year of college, I have been slow to understand the importance of voting and now that I do, I realize that I need to reach out to my peers and help them do the same. Now, I don’t read the news everyday or constantly watch C-SPAN. There’s a lot that I still don’t know, but that is no reason for me (or you!) not to vote. And if you are already super involved with the political process and elections, you are awesome and probably do not need to read this.

Anyway, I will begin by describing how technology and the media is changing how voting campaigns are being used to motivate voters (especially our demographic) and why we should care, how our access to voting affects election results, and an example of a broad issue, reproductive rights, affects all of us (regardless of gender).

The use of technology and social media to inform and persuade voters to vote a certain way has exploded with the creation of facebook, twitter, blogs, and just the internet in general. Most recently, in 2004, the presidential campaign for Howard Dean utilized the Internet as a tool to raise money through small donors. It is safe to say that the future of campaign fundraising will be changed forever because candidates can tap into the power of the people, so to speak. In 2008, President Obama also used the Internet to raise even more money and organize volunteers, inspire voters, spread information and address negative campaign messages in the media. As a result, the 2008 election had the largest voter turnout percentages since 1960. Furthermore, this election got significant amount of young and first-time voters to actually care what was going on. This just goes to show that social media is becoming an important tool to wield for candidates.

Now why should you care about this? Well, the fact that you can access information about campaign issues and information about candidates with the computer gives you access to a wealth of knowledge. Unfortunately, it is up to you to sift through the knowledge that is out there and understand how it affects you. It’s a lot like that saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”.

An article written by Jarvis A. Hall titled “The campus, the community, and voter mobilization” focuses on how students being involved with community groups can result in increased voter mobilization. As I stated before, the Obama campaign focused on encouraging young voters/students to vote, thus, it makes sense to study how students reacted to such encouragement. At North Carolina Central University (NCCU), there is an Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change (ICESC), which exists to “increase the level and quality of civic engagement on campus and in the community”. The ICESC focuses on voting empowerment, which includes voter registration, voter education, get out the vote, and election protection. (Hall) A good way to get involved is to seek out a group or institution within your own university. And even if you don’t want to get involved, it would be a good idea to at least see what kind of resources are at your disposal.

But, by being involved, you can encourage others to vote, which will hopefully encourage you further because you will be able to see how many other people care about voting too. Most civic engagement groups register new voters, which usually sparks their interest in how their vote will influence the outcome. The ICESC and other community groups came together to encourage students, the poor, ex-felons and other groups that are not typically addressed during the political process. The weekend before the registration deadline, ICESC and the NCCU law school had about forty students conduct a voter registration drive. The group went to three eastern North Carolina towns to focus on low-income youths in public housing, where voter registration was considerably below average. This voter registration drive reflects the overall increase in the electorate in North Carolina.  Halls states that 64% of the eighteen- to-twenty-four-year-olds in the entire nation were first time voters. And in the NCCU precinct specifically, 65.7% of the 2,293 registered voters were added during 2008. The fact that over one thousand voters were registered as a result of these efforts is impressive. In 2008, North Carolina led the nation with the largest increase in voter turnout from 64 percent to 70 percent. That increase goes to show that the efforts being made all across the state during 2008 were successful! Most interestingly is that these efforts were being made across the country during 2008 and if people had not gone out to engage new voters or young voters, then it is quite possible things could have turned out much differently.

Basically, it is pretty clear that the excuse “I’m just one person” does not work here because yes, you are one person, but there are many other people aside from you. And so when you think about how many people you know and think about how many people those people know and so on, it is possible that you can and do make a difference.

Demographics are also important to consider! For many reasons, the types of people doing the voting and their expectations changes. Usually, the Democratic party is supported by “minorities, working women, educated voters in urban areas, and younger voters”. On the other hand, Republicans are largely supported by “the white vote”. In the 2010 midterm elections, turnout from the Republican party increased and turnout from core Democratic voters decreased, which resulted in a Republican majority in Congress, despite the Democratic party’s demographic advantage. (Seib) This creates an interesting situation for both Republican and Democratic candidates. For example, President Obama has established “Women for Obama” as part of his “Operation Vote” campaign. First Lady Michelle Obama is an honorary chair of the initiative and has encouraged female voters to sign up with the group. The initiative has already coordinated events in Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Florida, California, North Carolina and New Hampshire. According to Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women and Politics at American University: Obama “needs the women’s vote… In every presidential election since 1980, there’s been a gender gap with women more likely to support the Democratic candidate than men. Without the women’s vote – because women comprise the majority of the electorate – it’s virtually impossible for a candidate to win the election.”

Now I’m not sure if you know about the Personhood Amendment that was proposed in Mississippi this past year, but basically, the state government in Mississippi tried to define life at the “moment of conception”. This would have made the birth control pill, the morning after pill and any form of contraception illegal. Even if you’re not using any form of contraception, I’m about 99% sure you know someone that is. (See what I mean by these issues affect you in some way!) On that note, I stumbled upon a list of the Top Ten Historic Advances for Women Now at Risk and found that, depending on the election results in 2012, things can get either a lot better or much, much worse. Of course it’s not guaranteed that things will be good or bad depending on who gets elected, but it’s important to be aware of how these issues will affect you.

For example, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was passed in 1994, will expire in 2011. Currently, this program provides, according to their website:

  • Violence prevention programs in communities
  • Protections for victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
  • Funding for victim assistance services like rape crisis centers and hotlines
  • Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
  • Programs and services for victims with disabilities
  • Legal aid for survivors of violence
  • Services for children and teens

Also, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Violence Against Women Act has been pretty successful. For one, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased 53%. Also, state governments have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
So if the Violence Against Women Act isn’t expired it’s difficult to tell whether or not the programs listed above will continue. It’s also hard to predict how the statistics about violence towards women and men will shift. I’d like to think that violence, in this case between intimate partners, will continue to decrease even without programs in place to help victims, but realistically, I believe that if the Violence Against Women Act is not renewed then the violence will continue and most likely increase. Currently, it is in the process of reauthorization.

This is just one of the many, many, many issues that come into question in future elections and depending on the candidate you vote for, issues that are important to you will either be acknowledged or ignored. As someone that has just recently gotten involved and been aware of political issues, I am always glad that I am. Political issues are not only an awesome topic for respectful conversations with other people, but it also gives you the power to be an informed and active citizen. Also, whenever your friends or classmates or peers start complaining about the way things are in society, you can inform them and let them know about this special thing called voting, which can help promote the kind of change that they want to see. Even though the political system of this country can be convoluted and slow-moving, it can also be a wondrous system that helps us with “the pursuit of happiness” as the Declaration of Independence states.

So please, for your benefit, my benefit and the benefit of others, VOTE! Make time to read the news or at least follow a (credible and non-biased) news source on facebook or twitter. Or get daily updates emailed to you! I fully believe that Ghandi wasn’t just kidding around when he said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Thank you for taking the time to read through this and I hope that it has inspired you in some shape or form. And if not, here is a video of Homer Simpson going to vote.

Sincerely,

Sarah

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