September 27, 2004

Peterson Stresses Importance of Vote

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“Stand up, speak out, and vote,” said Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson to an enthusiastic audience at the Straight on Saturday night. Peterson was one of the guest speakers at a C.U. Tonight voter registration banquet, organized by Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The banquet, entitled “Our Vote, Our Voice, Our Future,” featured a full program of entertainment, a panel discussion and speakers, including Peterson and Thomas Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations.

Peterson’s speech focused on the importance of voting, especially for young people. She said that many young people do not vote because they think their vote will not count, they feel they are ignored by politicians, or they don not receive enough information.

“There is a chicken or the egg problem here, politicians may not be addressing young people’s issues — so they’re not voting; and young people aren’t voting because politicians aren’t representing their issues,” Peterson said.

Peterson also mentioned some of the advantages of the mandatory voting system in place in Australia. There, voting is compulsory for all people over 18, and citizens are fined if they fail to vote without a valid excuse. With the introduction of compulsory voting in Australia, voter participation rose from about 47 percent to 94-96 percent.

“Compulsory voting is certainly a very direct way, but very controversial,” Peterson said. “It’s definitely something to discuss.”

She then emphasized the fact that each individual’s vote can make a difference. She said the 4th-ward election was “decided by one single vote.”

“You need to take a stand and get out there and vote,” Peterson said. “If you are registered, try to get two of your friends to register who aren’t.”

Bruce began his speech by giving a round of applause to all those present who had registered to vote for the first time this year.

“This is a year in which new voters get to make a big difference,” he said. Bruce stressed that the quality of a democracy depends on the level of participation.

“The most basic difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, is the quality of the participation of people in deciding what their government does,” Bruce said.

He disagreed with recent claims by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that politics is not a popularity contest. “Popularity is what it’s all about,” he said.

During the eighties, Bruce spent almost 10 years as senior staff consultant of the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Every time a politician would get up and argue with another politician, he argued on the basis [that he could] hold this position and go home and get reelected,” Bruce said.

Bruce urged those present to remind non-registered voters that, “Your ancestors all fought really, really hard to get us the privilege to be able to vote.” He concluded by praising the efforts of the organizers of the banquet and other voter-awareness drives.

“I think this kind of exercise is very, very worthwhile,” he said. “It’s really heartening to see you guys turn back that paradigm.”

After his speech, Bruce joined a panel of representatives from the Cornell College Republicans, Students for John Kerry, The Cornell Review, Cornell’s NAACP, Black Students United, and the Cornell Democrats to discuss current election issues.

Most panelists agreed that national security is likely to dominate the election. “President Bush has lead this country great on economic issues, but the most important issue is security.” said Mike Lepage ’05, chair of the Cornell College Republicans.

Nina Fixell ’07, co-president of Students for John Kerry, agreed that national security is an important issue, but said people are neglecting other issues, “because we’re constantly told to be in fear.” Algernon Cargill ’05, of BSU agreed, “Social and civil issues are equally, if not more important,” he said.

The panelists were asked how they thought the presidential candidates would attract minority voters. Mitch Fagen ’07, vice president of the Cornell Democrats, said Bush has “really done nothing to make minorities want to vote for him.”

Nitin Chadda ’07, senior editor of The Cornell Review, disagreed, describing Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, as “the biggest education reform act ever passed by congress in the history of the U.S.A.”

Entertainment for the event was provided by student dance groups Uhuru Kuumba, the Cornell Caribbean Students Association Dance Ensemble, and Urban Blaze.

Archived article by James Heath
Sun Contributor