In the politically charged 1960s and '70s, 18-20-year-olds were eager to have the right to vote. Now, it seems that right means little to many young people
Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh is making an important appeal to the state's young people.
A program sponsored by Kids Voting Kansas brought 30 high school students from across the state to Topeka Monday. Speaking to the group, Thornburgh cited some discouraging statistics.
In 1972, the first presidential election after the voting age was dropped from 21 to 18, half of the eligible 18-24-year-olds cast ballots. But by the 1996 presidential election, that figure had dropped to 32 percent. That compares with a 54 percent turnout for all voters over age 18 in 1996.
Figures for a non-presidential election are even more discouraging. The 1994 election drew only 20 percent of voters in the 18-24 age group. The total of 45 percent for all adults over 18 was lower than in a presidential year, but still significantly higher than for young adults alone.
This is a trend that the nation must do its best to fight.
It's increasingly difficult to get the attention of the American populace. Television provides an apt metaphor. In the 1950s, no television viewer had more than about three or four channels from which to choose. Now, many people have more than 100 options. In the '50s everyone talked to their friends about the popular television show they watched last night. Now, the chances are slim that among the many available choices, the show you watched last night also attracted the attention of your friend.
In the same way, it's difficult to get America's collective attention focused on just about anything. In an entertainment-based society, many people find politics boring. They don't want to delve into issues so they often cast their votes on the carefully crafted candidate images that are presented to them. And yet, they are becoming increasingly disappointed that the people they elect to office fail to live up to the expectations built by their campaigns.
Potential voters are bored and disenchanted, so increasingly they just decide to opt out of the process altogether. Older voters, however, seem to do better. Perhaps because those who lived through the Great Depression and/or World War II have a stronger sense of the impact government has on their lives.
But younger generations must be convinced that it isn't all right to forfeit their voice in the democracy to other people. As Thornburgh told his audience Monday, "When we start having a voter turnout of 32 percent or 25 percent, do we really have a democracy?'
The answer, of course, is no. We have a government chosen by what could become an elite class of people who wield unusual power because they are the only ones who take time to vote.
Perhaps it will take dire circumstances -- an economic crash or another world war -- to get the attention of non-voters, but we'd rather have our young people learn the value of voting in easier ways. The efforts of Thornburgh and everyone associated with programs like Kids Voting are a step in the right direction.