I grew up during a politically turbulent age in a politically active family whose dog joined us at marches and rallies with a sign around his neck. So I have been following the primary season like a political junkie.
In a large Near Eastern studies undergraduate class last semester I permitted myself to wax nostalgic and foolish at the end of a lecture (it actually might have been in the middle) as I reflected on youthful memories of walking precincts after school, spending election night at City Hall as local results came in and enjoying the thrilling spectacle of open political conventions. In those days the candidates, delegates and press would actually arrive at the convention without knowing who would emerge with their party’s mandate for the fall election. Pre-cable era conventions were broadcast by the three major networks and people would watch “gavel to gavel” coverage leading up to the roll call of states and their votes, occasionally past the first ballot. It seemed to me that everyone was engaged in the political process. What could be more important?
Are young people today as interested in politics? Around campus one can find many Cornell students engaged as party, candidate or issue activists. Regardless of their candidate or cause I admire them. Just last week I was talking with a faculty colleague and we agreed that Cornell students seem so much better informed and more engaged and involved this election year than we recall from previous years. Indeed, youth turnout has been rising since 2004 and there is some evidence to indicate 2008 could witness a record number of college-age voters. Some of the candidates seem keenly attuned to the 18 to25-year-old age group and its unique set of perspectives, interests and concerns, arguably on account of its untapped electoral potential to say nothing of your value as energetic campaign foot soldiers.
And yet…many students, like too many older Americans, still do not vote. When young people do not vote the first time they are eligible, whether because they are cynical, indifferent, apathetic, preoccupied or distracted, they tend not to be become involved in the political process soon thereafter. Anecdotal evidence from West Campus last week indicates that some sophomores and juniors registered on North Campus since they were freshmen did not re-register. They were turned away at the polling station in Alice Cook House and most did not have time or feel like heading up to RPCC. So no matter how busy you may be it is crucial for college students to pay attention and make time to stay informed, register, re-register if you ever move, and to obtain your absentee ballot with plenty of time to spare. Let us all commit to “no voter left behind.”