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With the entire current campaigning one would think election time is just around the corner, like maybe next month. But no, national elections are a year away and I ask how many of us will actually vote?
Well, in Missouri the percentage of people who actually vote is miserable. In 2010 in our state 500,000 people of voting age were inactive voters (either not registered or did not vote). And sadly in St. Louis city that same year close to two thirds of registered voters did not vote. Granted this was an off year election but in 2008 only slightly more than half of registered voters in Missouri actually voted. And our record of past years is not much better.
In other countries there are often fines if one does not vote and as a result voting records are much higher. For example, in New Zealand voting is compulsory and way over a majority of the people vote. Australia is comparable. In Italy compulsory voting brings out most of the population and just these past few days in Tunisia almost everyone voted. These countries are all democratic, forward looking countries.
Looking at Missouriís current voting records, what can we do to increase voting numbers? Certainly we must educate youngsters of the importance of voting as high school students will be voting in the next election.
We are fortunate to be able to vote, even though people may believe that oneís vote does not count. Yet each vote makes a difference. Look at the Florida vote in 2000 to see how every vote counted because less than 500 votes would have changed the outcome of the Presidential election
We have major challenges ahead. The public must be convinced of the importance of voting and why each vote counts. Schools in our region should make it clear to their students that voting is a privilege; it is an opportunity to be heard. All of us should campaign for changes in the voting process to allow voting on Sundays, giving more than one day to vote and seeing that every eligible person is registered to vote.
But for now to get this point across to students much must be done. Initially history and social study teachers need to talk about how our government operates and what role each person can play. It would be important for students to visit city hall or the county offices along with their local government offices, councils or aldermanic offices. Schools, and many do, need to hold mock elections, both local and national, to get children interested in the electoral process. Then, of course, students need to go home and encourage their parents to vote and go with them to the polls. Students perhaps could be awarded certificates if they get their parents to vote and special awards for four years of consistent voting by their parents.
If students feel empowered then there is a better chance for their families to feel the same. I know this sounds simple but it is much more important than many of us realize.
Lucky for us we have such the opportunity to vote and we need to make certain that we never lose it by neglecting our voting rights and privileges.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.