Too young to vote but old enough to care
By Reneé Rades | NIE Educational Consultant
It is a one word command is hammered into the collective mind of all Americans, especially in presidential election years, by teachers, neighbors, the media and politicians. Elections have the ability to ignite the passions of many of our country's citizens. These passions typically include concerns over the morality of our country, economic issues, education, our freedom, our nation's safety here and abroad and countless others that help voters decide whom should be entrusted with the future of our country.
Alexis, Stephany, Amanda (standing), Mercedes and Miri research questions to ask candidates, Tuesday September 28, 2004 at the City Island Library for a upcoming candidates form at Bethune-Cookman College. (Photo: David Tucker/News-Journal)
Voting gives a voice to the people who do it, it allows a person to speak up and let others know what concerns them and what they think should happen to it.
It sounds great, now who gets to vote? The criteria differ from state to state, but generally any U.S. citizen over the age of 18 can vote. There have been some efforts to lower the voting age around the country and globally. And even if it looks like you won't be able to help decide on public policy or leaders for another eight years or so, it does not mean that you should shy away from learning more about politics and how they affect you.
But why should you get into politics if you're too young to be listened to? There are many reasons why you should!
Politicians and other community leaders set public policy that directly effects your education, safety and freedoms. They determine how much funding your school gets, they decide if your community will have a curfew for minors, what penalties should be enforced if a minor breaks a law, and what happens to adults who harm minors. They also decide when you'll be able to drive, what kinds of jobs are too dangerous for you, and when you'll be legally allowed to make choices about alcohol, tobacco and gambling, among other things.
Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert, reads the Elections Laws of the State of Florida, while in a canvasing board meeting at the Department of Elections on Wednesday, November 3, 2004 in DeLand. (Photo: Christina Burke/News-Journal)
Candidates for mayor, governor, congress and the president rarely come up from nowhere. The people who run for these offices often have a long history of political activity that shapes they way they will lead your community. This involvement is usually somewhere lower in the chain of command, in positions that aren't highly publicized. When a candidate mentions that she or he has been a "proven leader" or something to that effect, it usually means that they have help other offices in the city or county where they come from.
Sometimes, these positions are in the school board, city or county council, or on a board that shapes public policy. Knowing who the movers and shakers are in politics now will make you better informed when the time comes for you to vote and more immune to negative campaign tactics during an election.
Think about it this way: an election year is the playoff season for your favorite sport, and the candidates are the teams wanting to win. If you're dedicated to the sport, you pay attention during the regular season, not just during playoffs.
Flagler County voters show up to cast their ballots at precinct 2 in the Flagler Beach City Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004. (Photo: Brian Myrick/News-Journal)
While getting into politics at your age may not seem as easy as signing up for basketball, there are ways you can get involved.
The first thing you should do is to get informed! Pay attention during you social studies class- you will need this information later! Maybe not so much the "who did what when" stuff, but definitely know the "how and why" of events, they will help you understand what is going on now and where different groups come from.
The next step to becoming part of the informed is to pay attention to issues in your community. Read your local newspaper's coverage of city council and school board meetings- it is here that most of your town's laws and leaders come from. You can also catch the news on television or online newsgroups to get up-to-the-minute updates on your community. As you do this, do not be afraid of asking for second opinions and looking things up for yourself. If it seems too hard to understand, you may want to check out news outlets designed for young people, or you can also ask a teacher or parent to explain it to you.
Knowing where you've come from and where you are today are great, but you also need to know what you think about the issues and what's important to you. Your values and life's experiences will often play a big role in what issues you find important, and that what you think now may change over time as you change.
This is okay! And so is being different from others! Let's say that for today, you feel that the most important thing for a president to do is to establish world peace while your best friend feels that the most important thing for a president to do is to protect the environment. Are either of you wrong? No, it just means that you have a difference of opinion. Remember to always respect others' right to have different opinions in the same way you would want others to respect your opinions.
Jaylin, 2, had a cheek full of candy and his "I voted" sticker prominently displayed on his shirt as he came out of the Oak Hill City Hall. He joined his grandmother, Caroline, and other family members in going to the polls Tuesday morning. His grandmother quipped the toddler told her who to vote for so that is why he got a sticker. (Photo: Mark I. Johnson/News-Journal)
You've come a long way to becoming an informed, active citizen, now how will you put your newfound knowledge and established beliefs to work? You can work in your school or community to get others educated by participating in your school's student government or more political groups such as Young Politicians of America or Voting Kids USA that encourage other young people to get into politics. If jumping into the political arena is more your speed, you can sit in on city council meetings, which are open to the public, or contact members of your local government to learn more. If you favor a party or a particular candidate, contact them and see how you can get involved. During elections, candidates need help passing out literature, buttons, and setting up for rallies.
Even if getting into the heavy of politics isn't your thing, it is still important to learn about the system you can be better prepared for when it is your turn to help shape America's leadership.
Try these activities using The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
1. Look at these two Daytona Beach News-Journal articles about lowering the voting age in the United States. Do you agree with them? Why or why not? Explore the pros and cons of having younger people vote and decide for yourself if it will work. Use research from the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Internet and textbooks to back up your answer. Share your thoughts with other students and us here at NIE World!
LA.A.1.3, LA.A.2.3, LA.B.2.3, LA.A.2.3, SS.C.1.3, SS.C.2.3
Donna Wagner (left) takes a break as Sylvester the Cat, while Karen Mason stands nearby dressed as Scooby-Doo. The two women were supporting a proposed city animal shelter Tuesday outside of the polls at the Edgewater Community Center. (Photo: Melanie Stawicki Azam/News-Journal)
2. Although the process of choosing a president is very complex, in the end it comes down to who voted for what and which candidate has the most votes. Brainstorm with your classmates to find out what issues in your school or community that you'd like to see change and use those issues as the basis of a poll. Get students from other classes to vote on the issues in your poll. Then, make a chart that shows your data, showing what issues are supported more than others. Who supports what? What would your fellow schoolmates like to see happen? Take your findings to your Student Government or other form of school improvement committee and see what you can change! MA.4.3, MA.B.1.3, MA.B.3.3, MA.C.1.3, MA.E.1.3, MA.E.3.3, SS.C.1.3, SS.C.2.3
3. Use The Daytona Beach News-Journal and other resources to find laws and policies regarding America's youth. How do these laws affect your daily life? Do you agree or disagree with what was decided, how would you have voted? Talk with your parents, neighbors and other people who voted on the more recent laws, why did they vote the way they did?
LA.A.1.3, LA.A.2.3, LA.B.2.3, LA.A.2.3, SS.A.1.3, SSA.4.3, SS.A.5.3, SS.A.6.3, SS.C.1.3, SS.C.2.3
4. Lots of people help a political candidate run for office. Some of these jobs include public relations specialists, advisors and campaign managers. Use The Daytona Beach News-Journal to look for articles that mention some of these key players and choose a job that interests you. Research the job using the newspaper, Internet, and other sources to find out what exactly do they do, what education is needed, and how much money they make. If it is possible, write to the person and ask them questions about their job. After researching the job, answer the following: Are you still interested in this job? Why or why not? Share your information with other classmates, if you are still interested in a job that you or a classmate researched, talk about it with your teacher or guidance counselor- many times, you can arrange to shadow the person for a day and really see what their job is like!
LA.A.1.3, LA.A.2.3, LA.B.2.3, LA.A.2.3, SS.C.1.3, SS.C.2.3
5. The first editorial cartoons were about politics, such as Benjamin Franklin's "join or Die" cartoon. Clip out political cartoons from The News-Journal for one month around election time, noting what issues they address. At the end of the month, review your collection and draw your own editorial cartoon with a message to your community.
LA.A.1.3, LA.A.2.3, LA.B.2.3, LA.A.2.3, SS.C.2.3, VA.V.1.3, VA.B.1.3, VA.C.1.3, VA.D.1.3, VA.E.1.3
Explore politics, voting and government with these links:
Kids Voting USA is an organization whose aim is to get younger people the right to vote. See how you can get involved at http://www.kidsvotingusa.org/.
Learn more about how you can get involved in voting with Young Politicians of America at http://www.ypa.org/home.asp.
What is government, why do we need it, and what role does it play in our lives? Go to http://www.onlineschools.org/resources/democracy/ to learn what democracy means and how it works.
Kids cover the 2004 elections from primaries to the big day at Scholastic's Web site: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/election2004