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Archive for Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Rock on

Election officials should learn from unconventional registration methods like those employed by Rock the Vote to boost participation by younger voters.

June 23, 2004

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The Youth Participation in Politics and Civic Engagement Summit held last weekend at the Dole Institute of Politics focused on discussing ways to get young adults more involved in the political process and, specifically, in voting. At the summit, a Lawrence High School government teacher noted that one of the reasons young people don't vote is because of complicated rules involved with registering.

Those of us who have registered to vote probably didn't find it particularly taxing, but if the system is off-putting to young people, it's only smart to try to make it more user-friendly. That's what a movement called "Rock the Vote" is trying to do.

Rock the Vote representatives take their message and their registration materials to places where potential young voters hang out: concerts and nightclubs. They aren't places where they'd expect to be offered a chance to register to vote, but that's part of the key to its success. The grass-roots effort in Douglas County registered about 100 voters in May and hopes to collect about 75 more this month.

That's not a lot compared with the county's overall registration of about 55,000, but it's a step in the right direction. And beyond the actual number of registrations they collect, the Rock the Vote movement plants a seed in the minds of many other young people by demystifying the registration process.

Many young people approached by Rock the Vote think it's too early too register to vote this year. Obviously, it's never too early to register to vote, and if they want to vote in the Aug. 3 primary, they must be registered by July 19. Some states now are adopting same-day registration in an effort to boost election participation. The ideal for most young people probably would be a secure online registration system. Rock the Vote's Web site offers registration forms and instructions, but Kansas voters still have to mail or deliver the forms.

Probably the biggest challenge is to convince young people that it's important to vote. Like older adults, many of them have given up on politics because they believe their vote doesn't matter. The standard examples of elections that are won or lost by just a few votes don't seem to resonate with them.

Young adults might consider that by failing to vote they basically are turning over all government decisions to their parents and grandparents. Senior citizens are among this nation's most loyal voters. That's laudable, but it also provides some incentive for younger voters who may not agree with the way government is being run.

Movements like Kids Voting and Rock the Vote are wonderful efforts to teach young people about the mechanics and importance of participating in the democratic process. Rock the Vote's work to make the registration process more accessible sets a example from which election officials might learn.

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