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One young man asks:'So why should I vote?'

August 18, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Michael Myers is a 24-year-old native of Waynesboro, Pa., who works as a graphic designer for a Hagerstown company. He is polite, professional and a whiz on the computer, according to his co-workers.

He would seem to be a model citizen, except for one thing: He has never voted in an election and doesn't plan to, unless some of our readers give him good reasons why he should.

More about that at the end of this column. I asked Myers to do an interview because although the percentage of Americans going to the polls has dropped in recent years, it's dropped even faster for young people.

In 2000, The Detroit News reported that the participation of 18-to-24 year-olds voting dropped from 49.6 percent in 1972 to 32.4 percent in 1996.

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(The findings were based on surveys done as part of the 2000 U.S. census.)

The Center for Voting and Democracy theorizes that the change from issue-oriented campaigns to more negative contests has left young people disillusioned with the process and the system.

For Myers, it's not about disillusionment. To hear him talk, he never had any illusions about the system. No matter what the contest is, he said, the candidates don't talk about anything relevant to the lives of ordinary people. And, no matter who's elected, nothing ever changes.

In the presidential election, "Every time we vote, it's for the same two guys. It's not the same two guys, but it is."

Sometimes, he said, "I'm tempted to vote against somebody, but even if you don't like somebody, there's not going to be anybody to vote for."

Most young people learn about politics from their parents. Myers did, but said his family's experience with elected officials when they were running a small business wasn't inspiring.

"They say they'll help, they act like they'll help, but there isn't as much out there (in the way of help) as they make it seem to be," he said.

As a result, the small stores have been pushed out by the big retailers, he said.

Myers said that the candidates he hears seldom talk about the concerns of the average working person, but instead seem more concerned "about the big dollars and who gave them money when they were running."

For example, he said, "I can't fathom why more people aren't talking about health care."

Though his own health has been good, Myers said he would willingly pay higher taxes for a system like Canada, where health care is available for all.

Saving Social Security should be another priority, he said.

"I love paying into it because it's for my grandparents, but it's going to be gone by the time I'm ready for it," he said.

It's not an issue the upper class is concerned about, he said, since their retirement is secure.

"It's also discouraging that you have to be a wealthy person to run for office," he said, adding that such people aren't aware of the average person's concerns.

John Kerry and George Bush are both "spoiled rich guys," he said, noting that during the Democratic primary process, he watched the candidates and the only one who seemed concerned about the average person was the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"He seems a little on the edge, but he talks about stuff that interests me," he said.

Myers may be young, but he's old enough to be cynical. He watched the build-up toward the war in Iraq and said he suspects it was pushed in part to rev up the U.S. economy.

"And that whole Florida (election) thing was pretty much a joke. It seemed like too much of a coincidence that George Bush's brother was the governor of the state where there were problems," he said.

It might be better if something like Green Party was funded by the government so its candidates could have a chance, he said,

As it it now, "the names are different, but the views are all the same," he said.

Myers said he's not reluctant to have his name used, and in fact would like people to tell him why he's wrong.

"Give me a real reason why it would affect my life, if I would vote. I've heard many, but when that election is done and when that person I voted for is elected, how is that going to help me?" he said.

Please tell him, in 100 words or less, why he should vote. Let me suggest that you don't scold him, but try to persuade him instead.

Send your letters to Why Vote, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21740, or e-mail to: opinion@herald-mail.com.

The deadline is Monday, Aug. 23 and we'll publish replies on Wednesday, Aug. 25. Thank you.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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