[card]Casting votes on election day is an activity many MSU students take part in, while several others choose to abstain. Maybe the candidates don\’t appeal to them, the issues on the ballot don\’t seem important or they don\’t think their vote will really make a difference. Having to vote in the area you are registered in provides another obstacle for students to overcome, and some don\’t see the point in going through the trouble of changing the address on their driver’s license. Patterns such as these continue throughout the country, some regions gaining more political support than others. In other parts of the world, however, these trends do not ring true and strict consequences are faced for not partaking in the democratic process. Does America need to implement a fine or jail time for not participating in elections, or does our incredibly low voter turnout meet our country\’s standards?
Youth Voting
According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 27% of 18-24 year-olds in Michigan voted in the 2000 elections compared to 57% of Americans. Reasons why more young people don’t vote vary depending on who you’re talking to. The senile old man on the porch would probably say something like, “pot-smokin’ hippies forgot what day it was,” but most people have other causes for the disenfranchisement of young voters.
[sec]Most who fall in this age group are first time voters, which means they face something their parents don’t: registration. Michigan’s deadline for registering or changing the address on your registration was October 6th. It’s important to add that thing about the address change because if you live somewhere other than what’s on your driver’s license, you needed to fill out a form and get a sticker for the back of your license by the sixth. If you haven’t, you can always look forward to a nice visit to the folks. This is only state policy though. It’s different for different states.
New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming all allow people to register on Election Day. North Dakota doesn’t require any registration whatsoever. Most states have a 30, 45 or 60 day pre-election deadline. And a couple have archaic, fifth-Monday-before-the-first-November-Tuesday constitutional nonsense… I mean language.
Only 70% of the population is registered to vote and most are 18-24 year-olds. America’s average turnout from 1960 to 1995 is 54%, right after Hungary, Russia and India. Most other developed nations average in the 80s or at least 70s.
Where in the World is… High Voter Turnout?
If you just want some impressive democratic participation, look no further than Australia and Malta. It sounds weird, but the land down under and a tiny island on the other side of the globe, between Sicily and Africa, are the most active democracies on earth, although for different reasons. \”You are forced to register as soon as you turn 18, and therefor forced to vote,\” psychology senior Megan Ford said of the voting policy in Australia. Ford spent a semester studying in Australia and witnessed this process by observing her friends. \”If you don\’t vote, a fine is sent in the mail,\” she said. Australians are fined $20 for not voting and an additional $30 if they don’t have a valid excuse. \”Some people just don\’t register, but they\’ll most likely be caught. It\’s pretty tightly regulated, I think,\” Ford said. They aren’t fined in Malta, but they do have such a politically strong unicameral legislature that it appoints the president. In a political culture like this, citizens are more apt to feel like their vote matters.
Political scientists find two causes related to voter turnout: cultural and institutional. The cultural factor is basically how the population feels about the government and their personal politics. People will be more involved in a government they can trust. People get more involved when the government is affecting them. Institutional factors are the rules that govern elections. Australia’s fine for not voting is a good example of a way to raise turnout. That would never fly in America though, it might seem. One sure-fire way to increase turnout would be at the business end of a gun.
Vote or Die
[ballot]It seems that the widespread partisanship in this country is actually helping it. Helping it give a damn that is. Talking heads have been replaced with screaming heads on a 24 hour cycle. News about “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” enraged formerly lucid people into action. Everywhere people are finger-pointing and mud-slinging and numbers couldn’t be higher. Voter turnout is the highest it’s been since 1968. Five million more young adults voted in 2004 than in 2000 according to a Harvard study. One of the reasons for the surge in youth voting, the study found, was the U.S.-Iraq War. Young people were thinking about that issue more than any other. That one issue has divided the nation so much and made both sides feel that they are totally right that the only way to express such convictions is by voting. Hence the rise in participation.
Whatever may come of this mid-term election, it promises to be a heated one. Republicans control Congress while the war in Iraq grows increasingly unpopular. Congressmen and women are distancing themselves from a distrusted administration and corrupt leadership. The question is: can the Democrats win both houses back or will they lick their wounds for another two years?

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