The Youth Guide to Politics: Get Your Vote On!

Ally Klimkoski
December 18, 2007

Happy Election 2008! On Nov. 4, 2008, we will go to the polls to elect a president, 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 34 members of the U.S. Senate, 11 state governors and a whole gaggle of state offices.

And while a heck of a lot of people want you to think that you don't matter. I'm here to tell you that not only do youth matter, but they are essential to the democratic process at each level of government. First, let's recap some basic government and voting facts.

In past pieces for the Youth Guide to Politics, we've explored lobbying and PACs to try to understand how money and influence has its place in Washington. This article deals with the influences youth have and how to make a mark in the voting process.

Making It Count

A new group called Why Tuesday focuses on fixing the broken election system, making things easier, better and more reliable. One key way is to ensure that every vote is actually counted as it is cast.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the voting booth!

If you remember the insanity that went on in Florida in 2000 or in Ohio in 2004, then you know how important every single vote is. Vice President Gore lost by 1,725 votes in Florida in 2000. That's a single dorm building.


Earlier that year we encountered a voter purge of over 58,000 from the voter roles in the state of Florida. Some counties used vintage voting equipment that created some questions, because people voted for one candidate when they intended to vote for another.

With so much confusion and such old voting equipment, the new Bush administration in 2001 passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which allocated federal dollars to states for purchasing new voting equipment that more accurately captures and counts votes.

The major manufacturer of the new electronic voting machines was a company called Diebold Inc. In 2004 the head of Diebold, Wally Odell, was a fund-raiser for Bush.

In his invitation to a benefit for Bush last August, he wrote, "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president."

And he did ... so went the Bush victory in 2004. So inspirational was the vote stealing in 2004 that a feature film was released where Robin Williams was elected to the White House.

(see video below)

Following both elections, a slew of computer scientists began testifying in state committee hearings across the country about the lack of security in voting machines. One such hearing was the California Elections Committee, chaired by then Sen. Debra Bowen, who's now secretary of state, California's head election official.

"The problems with electronic voting machines have been well-documented, and every election brings a new problem to light," said Bowen. "Last week in Chicago, malfunctions with Sequoia's optical scan and touch-screen machines prevented many people from casting ballots, and officials are still tallying votes thanks to problems with merging the vote totals from the different types of machines ... "

A video produced by Bowen's 2006 campaign illustrates the ease of hacking electronic voting machines:

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Many secretaries of state elected in 2006 have since decertified these machines, saying they are not accurately counting votes as they are cast.

Tip: If you, for any reason, are fearful of your vote being accurately counted on Election Day 2008, we recommend you vote by paper ballot. By law, polling stations are required to have paper ballots on hand for those who request them. Request a paper ballot! It's hard to deny its accuracy and its existence when you hold it in your hand. There are also different ways to make your vote count, in primaries, caucuses and national elections. It's important to know when to vote, where and why.

Caucuses and Primaries

A blink after New Year's Day (Jan. 3), Iowa will be the first state in the country to vote on the presidential nominee. But not everybody in the state of Iowa and Nevada who votes Jan. 19 gets to vote, because they use a caucus instead of an open primary. What's up with that?

Here to explain the caucus system and how it works is Why Tuesday:

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John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have special sites and videos that give instructions for how to caucus. Clinton emphasizes how easy it is, and Obama's and Edwards' step-by-step instructional videos shows that caucusing is fun and cool.

In comparison, New Hampshire, the second state to vote on a presidential nominee, is the first in the series to let its entire voting population vote on its nominee and will hold its primary Jan. 8. New Hampshire treasures its placement in the primary calendar, and people there take its vote seriously. Most seasoned candidates and campaign staff know that unless you've stood in a voter's living room a time or two, the voters don't consider you a real candidate.

Michigan follows on Jan. 15, and South Carolina -- the first Southern state -- holds its primary on Jan. 26, with Florida three days later. Then there's Super Duper Tuesday, Tsunami Tuesday, or, holy cow, pretty much everyone in the country is voting on Tuesday -- on Feb. 5.


In Colorado, an organization named New Era Colorado has done a clever video to remind voters that the caucus comes early this year!

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Hyped and Ready to Vote -- Here's How

Step One: You gotta be of age.

I know, I know ... everyone should be able to vote, but just because you can drive a car doesn't mean your government trusts you to make decisions about your future. However, you can fight this arbitrary law.

If you're 18, or in some state caucuses — if you're going to be 18 by Nov. 4, 2008, then you can register and get your vote on.

Step Two: You gotta register.

In many states you have to preregister weeks or even a month in advance of Election Day. And if you've moved in the last year or two, then you may not be registered at your new address. So that's right ... you gotta reregister. You can register to vote at most city halls, post offices and DMVs.

Rock the Vote has a great way to get registered or reregistered to vote right from your computer!

One organization is making sure everyone knows about this. Forward Montana is hopping to it with their Pink Bunny Campaign.

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Five Myths Dispelled

Young people are voting more and more each year. In Mike Connery's Cheat Sheet for Journalists, who too often report that young people don't vote, he shows us that not only do young people vote, but in the last presidential election, more young people voted than seniors over 65!

So, in short -- don't ever let anyone tell you that young people aren't voting.

Many reporters and scholars like to say that young people don't vote because they don't care, or there is some kind of rebellious anti-government attitude. This too is a lie.

We face many problems imposed by our local officials, and Clinton and Dodd's attitudes are only a part of it.

Myth 1: "I have to work, I have to go to school. I don't have time."

Crap! You can vote early, and you can vote from home. Until we can vote for more than one day or vote on the weekends, this is the way to go if you know you'll be busy or think you might be busy.

Myth 2: "I'm not registered."

OK ... well, that's a valid excuse. But here's a great way to fix it: Register!

Myth 3: "I'm not sure where to go or what to do, so I can't go vote."

This is a tough one. We move around a lot. We're not rich enough to do a mortgage and often times we'll leave our apartments to share a bigger place with a friend. If you move, you have to reregister. Reregister now!

Not sure where the new place is to vote? Find it!

Go here for more information about a candidate or issue.

Myth 4: "I can't vote. My vote doesn't matter, anyway."

Don't start with me. In Montana, there was a State House member who lost by seven votes. That influenced which party was in power in the Montana State House. Think you don't matter? Think again.

Myth 5 : "I can't vote. On TV, they say we don't vote anyway."

Your job is to ignore the old fogies who don't have a clue, and know that they are jealous of your numbers, your involvement and your abilities. This myth is the biggest lie of them all. In 2008 there will be 50 million of us -- 18- to 31-year-olds -- and in 2015 we will be 36 percent of the electorate. We're so important that TV, music, movies, products, websites, and more of all are marketed to us. You are powerful, and you can make a real difference.

Step Three: Bring Identification (I.D.)

The American Prospect says

"Advocates of ID requirements say such measures are necessary to prevent fraud, and local election boards are following correct procedures when they exclude voters who don't bring the required materials. But most studies have found that ID fraud is not a serious problem, and the end result is that a student whose school and home addresses do not match is often at the mercy of local officials, many of whom are wary of the impact student voters will have on their community in the first place."

Better be safe than sorry. Take your driver's license. Take a utility bill -- gas, electric, phone, internet, cell phone, whatever you've got. In fact -- take two just to be safe.

If you get into it with the poll worker call 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

Step Four: You gotta vote.

As they say -- 90 percent of success is just showing up! Find out when your state votes. Make sure it's a primary or a caucus.

And there are tons of ways you can vote. Let's say you live in Kentucky, which holds its primary on May 20, but you're going to be on tour with the Strokes. Thirty-one states allow pre-Election Day voting in person.

Or, let's say you'll be studying abroad for your spring semester. No worries. You can vote by mail or absentee. Twenty-nine states allow no-excuse absentee voting by mail.

If you don't need to vote early -- just show up!

Don't Let the Man (or Woman) Hold You Down!

As you can hear from my "just to be safe" attitude above, faulty voting equipment is old news compared to some of the new fears we are facing in the 2008 elections.

Just a few months ago, students at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., encountered intimidation, threats and challenges to the validity of their registration, and even had cops staged outside and inside early voting stations, leading up to their 2007 citywide elections.

As Rock the Vote reports:

Public statements made by the challengers have clearly exposed their motive -- to prevent the students from voting through intimidation. Incumbent council member, John Morris, attempted to take out an ad in the Connect Statesboro, warning students that by registering to vote, they'd risk losing their financial aid, and their parents could no longer list them as dependents on their tax returns. Neither part of council member Morris' "public service announcement" was true. Morris also expressed his concern for the students when he was quoted in a Statesboro Herald story.

Actions by Morris, and the automated phone calls reportedly received by students telling them not to bother voting because their vote wouldn't count would be illegal if the Senate passes the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act."

If that wasn't bad enough, last week presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd both criticized Barack Obama for rallying students at Iowa's various universities and colleges to participate in the Iowa Caucus. Future Majority was the first to state that this is clearly "advocating for the disenfranchisement of young voters."

Politico reported that Julie Andreeff Jensen, the Iowa state director for the Chris Dodd for President campaign, said in a statement on Saturday:

I was deeply disappointed to read today about the Obama campaign's attempt to recruit thousands of out-of-state residents to come to Iowa for the caucuses.

The American Prospect calls this a "page right out of the Republican playbook," and continues to say:

To be sure, the obstacles student voters face can be disheartening. One is the ambiguous notion of what is home. In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students could vote where they attend school if they "establish residency," but the court refused to qualify what constituted residency ... But the patchwork system opens the door for opportunistic partisans to utilize legal harassment and red tape to suppress a crucial voting bloc.

So just remember:

Tip 1: Never believe everything you hear.
Tip 2: Verify any BS. If you're not sure, you can call from your polling place 1-888-VOTE-SMART, and people there will research the facts for you.
Tip 3: Don't let anyone ever intimidate you from exercising your constitutional right to vote.

From YouTube debates to the candidates' social network sites, it's clear that the youth vote matters to the 2008 candidates. The question is, will you make your vote count?


Ally has worked as staff in numerous campaigns from presidential campaigns to city council races, she has also volunteered for progressive candidates of all types. She has a personal blog and consults with and teaches skills to interest groups and activist organizations nationwide. Ally's concerns include global human rights and the ever-increasing wage disparity in the U.S. You may contact her at Aliceschechirecat at gmail dot com

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We&;ve made this story our featured Pick of the Web at our learning org&;s website: <a href="http://www.learningis4everyone.org">http://www.learningis4everyone.org</a> Click on our Resource Guide and browse our Civic Resources for more elections tools.<br />
<br />
Youth in the Tampa, FL area interested in civic engagement, and especially in youth citizen journalism, are also invited to check out <a href="http://www.datelinetampa.com">http://www.datelinetampa.com</a> .<br />
<br />
Terri Willingham<br />
LIFE Inc.<br />
www.learningis4everyone.org

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