Students must bring change to government

by Kenneth Leonard

The U.S. Congress has a 90 percent incumbency rate and a historically low approval rating of five percent. This means members of Congress are almost universally viewed as incompetent, but the same idiots keep getting reelected. We live in a democratic republic where leadership, whether we like it or not, is reflective of our national identity. In a system such as ours we get the elected officials we deserve, and in light of this truth even the most cursory glance at U.S. politics should cause citizens to bow their heads in shame.

Ineptitude at all levels of government should weigh especially heavily on students because we are inheriting the problems created by previous generations. The current crop of politicians was, for the most part, elected before we had a chance to get into the game and make our voices heard via the ballot box. Still, voter turnout among college students is comparatively low. Students need to vote, but we consistently fail to do so for a few reasons.

Students are portrayed as apathetic when it comes to politics, especially at the local level. Ostensibly, students don’t know or care about what’s going on in city council meetings, for example. Because of this perception, politicians don’t necessarily feel obligated to take college-age voters seriously. If students won’t help them get reelected why should they care about the issues students struggle with?

However, there’s a critical distinction between an apathetic voter and an overwhelmed citizen who doesn’t have time to wade through the inevitable swamp of political sludge that materializes during every election season.

It’s not that students don’t care about our country. It’s just that we’re busy undergoing essential training that enables us to be the next generation of leaders who move this nation forward. Unfortunately, we can’t trust our elders to make responsible decisions when it comes to voting. After all, they’re the ones responsible for devastating our country with their irresponsible voting record.

This means it’s time for us to step up and vote. You may be thinking, “Why is he bringing this up now? It’s not even an election year.” Wrong, my friends. Here in San Diego, we have an election coming up in just a few short weeks. On Nov. 19 there will be a special election for the mayor of San Diego. If your response to this news is a shrug of your shoulders and a, “Who cares?” then just put this paper down and continue being a part of the problem. If, however, you have an interest in living and working in this city after you graduate, then you already understand your obligation to get informed and turn out on Election Day.

Campaigns aren’t anticipating much of a turnout from college students. They aren’t reaching out to our campuses. They’ve essentially written us off at this stage in the game because we just don’t turn out at the polls.

But student turnout has improved in recent elections, and various organizations have crunched the numbers from the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterm elections, providing insights into what’s really going on with turnout among young voters. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that “(more than) a quarter of college students reported in 2010 that they did not register to vote because they did not know where or how to register or they missed the deadline.” However, in 2010 less than 13 percent of students said the reason they didn’t vote was because of a lack of interest. In 2008, 87 percent of the students who were actually registered did vote. Still, only 24 percent of all eligible voters between the ages of 18-29 voted in 2010.

If young people turned up en masse on Election Day, who knows how great the impact would be? Young voters are more racially and ethnically diverse than the rest of the general voting population. We may not have the experiential knowledge of more senior voters, but we certainly have the ability to take a look at the condition of government locally and nationally and recognize an urgent need for fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Turn out on Election Day. Make the time to fulfill your civic responsibility. It sounds cliché, but your vote matters. Take a look at San Diego and ask yourself if you want to allow the same old voters to determine the fate of the city, or if you would prefer to take an active role in selecting a candidate who can bring fresh, innovative ideas to this city. Let’s send a message to party leaders and politicians. Students are a force to be reckoned with, and we refuse to sit on the sidelines while government at all levels remains either ineffective or counterproductive. It’s time to move this city forward, and it’s our generation who bears the responsibility to bring progress to the communities where we’ll work and live after we graduate.