Too Many Uninformed Youth Voters?

October 30, 2008 | NeW Staff

The increase in participation in this election by young voters is getting a lot of attention.  In Virginia, for example, more than a quarter million new voters have been registered this year, 42% of which are younger than 25.  This is universally praised. 

John Stossel’s column this week, A Duty Not to Vote?, questions this premise.  He writes,

“Let me be politically incorrect and say that maybe some people shouldn’t vote.

I know I’m swimming against the tide. Get-out the-vote groups now register young people at rock concerts. HeadCount cofounder Andy Bernstein told me: ‘We registered over a 100,000 people. It is so imperative that this generation’s voice is heard.’

But wait. Is that really a good idea?

Many kids don’t know much. At a HeadCount concert, “20/20” asked some future voters, ‘How many senators are there?’ One said 12, another 16, and another 64. One girl guessed, ’50 per state.’

Most kids didn’t know what Roe v. Wade was about. ‘Roe vs. Wayne?’ asked one. ‘Segregation, maybe?’ ‘Where we declared bankruptcy?’

Headcount’s Marc Brownstein concedes, ‘there’s a lot of uninformed voters out there.’ But he argued:

‘Democracy is not about taking the most educated portion of the society and having them decide who’s going to run the entire society. Democracy is about every individual having a voice.’

I suggested that when people don’t know anything, maybe it’s their civic duty not to vote.”

Voting provides voters with a sense of empowerment and a feeling we can make a difference.  These are common feelings that I hear articulated among young people.  Becoming educated on the issues and candidates will make this feeling stronger.  Stossel’s TV show and column have been sharply criticized for advocating disenfranchisement.  The overall message of his column, however, seems to be less interested in disenfranchisement and more interested in voter education. 

Bridget wrote about one of her classmates organizing a petition to cancel class on Election Day.  Liberty University has given students the day off.  Let’s hope these students are more educated than the people Stossel interviewed in his column.

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