Most Boise State students have the right to vote in local, state, and federal political contests on Tuesday, November 6th.
But according to the US Census Bureau data, each election cycle since 1964 has prompted lower turnout among degree-holding voters.
For this 2012 election season, “the data suggests young voters will not turn out at the same rate as in 2008,” according to a Gallup article.
In fact “fifty-eight percent of U.S. registered voters aged 18 to 29 say they will “definitely vote” this fall, well below the current national average of 78% and far below 18- to 29-year-olds’ voting intentions in the fall of 2004 and 2008,” says Gallup.
Voter Right or Duty to Vote
“I think voting a right more than a duty, because not voting is a way of expressing your satisfaction with the political system as it exists,” said Scott Yenor, chair of the political science department. “So not voting is a kind of choice, and I don’t think that people should feel compelled to vote.”
However, both national and local organizations actively promote the right to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union’s answer is the national “Get Out The Vote” program, which is affiliated with ACLU’s local “Let Me Vote” campaign. This non-partisan program alerts Boise State students and the surrounding community of the right to vote, as well as the practicalities of voting.
“(18- to 35-year-olds) count as the youth vote. That would generally encompass graduating high school students and a majority of college aged students,” said Kathy Griesmyer, Program Coordinator at ACLU Idaho. “They were the largest voting population that turned out in the 2008 election. Barack Obama has given credit to that age group for helping elect him into office.”
The projected low turnout for the younger voting population means President Obama may be missing a large part of the support he had in the 2008 election.
“The problem with voting is that it is a one shot deal,” Yenor said. “It’s not ultimately connected with any other civic form of participation. That’s to be expected – that’s the way modern representative republics work. But it’s a very thin idea of what it means to be a citizen if it’s limited to voting.”
According to Yenor, voting should be an act that confirms the voter’s civic activity.
“It should be connected with knowing something, which is why I have been somewhat in favor of lowish turn-outs,” Yenor said. “It generally means that those who know the most and have the most at stake are the ones who are voting.”
But Yenor also believes that some Americans may be becoming apathetic about their civic engagement because they find it difficult to see their votes translate into results.
“Our government is less and less democratic,” Yenor said. “The people who make the most important decisions in the modern administrative state are bureaucrats. The laws that Congress passes are very vague, and Congress ends up delegating significant portions of power to the administration.” said Yenor. “During the Bush Administration, Congress really delegated its war authority to the president – I mean it passed a law to do that.”
Beating Voter Suppression
Nationally, laws facilitating voter suppression are making headlines and contributing to lower voter turnout.
“We’ve seen that in the 2008 election, there was this incredibly high turnout of new voters that turned out (compared to) the previous election,” Griesmyer said. She suspects that voter suppression laws are attempts to reduce and restrict the youth vote from participating to the same extent in the 2012 elections.
According to Griesmyer, 2010 saw many states pass laws requiring voters to show a certain form of photo identification before being given a ballot. Other laws limit access to early voting, rendering some individuals unable to vote if they cannot reach a polling place on Election Day.
Voter ID and the early voting restriction make it much more difficult for certain groups to exercise their voting rights, and, according to Griesmyer, “really harm low income and minority voters.” These are the same people who have the most to lose in an election nationally or locally, depending on the candidates and their policies.
Idaho passed a voter identification law in 2010, but ACLU successfully worked for an alternative.
“If you don’t have a photo ID and you don’t want to pay for one, you could still sign a personal identification affidavit and navigate around that law,” Griesmyer said. ACLU argues these laws are a form of poll tax, which is forbidden by the US Constitution – the electorate shouldn’t have to incur costs in order to vote.
For Boise State students, the personal identification affidavit works well, she said, especially those who don’t have an Idaho driver’s license.
To Vote or Not to Vote
Despite the downward trend in college-age voters, to some Boise State students, voting is critical.
“I missed the last presidential election by a year,” said Shaila Schmidt, ASBSU Secretary of Academic Affairs. “This is my first chance to vote in a presidential election. I’m one of those who believe that you vote. I don’t like to say that every vote matters, because it makes people feel too small. But I believe that the only way we can make a difference if something is not going right – we need to vote about it,” said Shaila Schmidt, a junior Theater major with Dramatic Writing emphasis.
Schmidt added that local propositions that can do damage and individual votes do have an impact on their ability to pass.
“If I don’t like a proposition – what it’s going to do to my city – the only way to say no is to vote against it,” she said. “If you’re not voting, you have no right to complain about the things that aren’t working in the system because you’re not doing your part to change those.”
Other students agree.
“(Voting is) critical, I would even say; it’s essential,” said Lance Moore a senior Communications Studies major and president of the Boise State Democrats. “I’m definitely an advocate for voting because it is a formal expression of preference for a candidate who represents the ideals of the people. It really does matter, especially on the local level. I used to be one of those apathic people until I realized the impact local candidates can have, especially on a local level.”
Conversely, some students actively exercise their right not to vote.
“I’m a citizen, I have the ability to vote, but I don’t exercise that ability because I don’t think it’s in my best interests to society,” said Henry Johnson, a senior economics major and member of Students for Liberty. “I don’t have a positive view on voting in a moral sense, and in a rational self-interested sense, it would depend on the election and potential benefits that could be received by society. I don’t believe it’s justifiable to institute one’s preferences over someone else’s, through the voting process, using the state.”