Thursday, January 31, 2008

"GW Votes" in a more realistic light

Today, the Hatchet ran a story about GW Votes, a student organization dedicated to getting out the vote as much as possible to promote higher youth turnout. The story
begins with a declaration that aims high and is certainly honorable.

The GW student body should have no problem getting to the
polls this November with the help of GW Votes.

And I do not doubt the ability of GW Votes to make good on its promise to register new voters, provide absentee ballots, and provide election information in general. But there is no evidence to suggest that merely providing these resources and services will result in a
dramatically higher percentage of youth turnout.

While GW Votes is certainly willing and capable to bring students into the political process for the first time, it is incumbent upon the students to actually vote.

From my perspective, I think that the success of GW Votes should be reflected in the actual number of youth who turn out to vote - not those who merely registered to do so. Many people might not consider this distinction, but there could potentially be a huge difference
between people who request ballots and who use ballots. Just this last week, a close friend of mine reported to me that she had received her absentee ballot but had procrastinated on sending it back.

"The election is February 5th", I warned her. "Send it as soon as possible - the state has to count a huge amount of these".

So we should not assume that students vote, even after receiving the means to do so.

This is why I am not satisfied that the organization was "quite successful" in 2004, as the Hatchet reported:

Every single undergraduate was registered to vote by Election Day and nearly 85 percent of the student body requested absentee ballots, according to GW Votes organizers.

In no way do I want to diminish the work of GW Votes. Rather, I think it is very admirable, but we need to start defining success much more accurately. Success to me would be captured in actually observing a markedly higher youth vote percentage rather than in the statistics of
who can vote.

To vote, one must be able to vote. That is true, and always has been. Impediments to voting cannot be allowed to stand as they stand as roadblocks to the democratic process. But what must also not stand is a person's unwillingness to vote. That is just as destructive to the process as any artificially imposed barriers from above.

GW Votes should certainly continue its admirable work as a student organization working for a good cause. But people must understand that within the scope of its work there is no guarantee that the youth segment of the population will actually vote.

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