Efforts being made to encourage young voters

Posted 3:40 p.m. Sept. 19

by Bernard Pollack

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Young voters are the key to American politics, according to a new program called “Party Y” that is designed to encourage the “under 30” crowd to turn its attention to national issues.

With 50 million voters between the ages of 18-30 and the largest teen generation reaching voting age in U.S. history — 35 million voters — many attempts have been made to reach out to this traditionally non-voting constituency. Politicians, nonprofits and efforts like MTV’s Rock the Vote have all tried and failed to mass-register, engage youth and mobilize them to the voting booths on Election Day.

YouthVote, a nonpartisan coalition working to increase voter turnout among the under 30 crowd recently reported a steady decline in youth participation over the last 30 years.

“Voter turnout in American elections has plunged in recent years,” according to a recent YouthVote statement. “Since 1972, voter turnout dropped from 50 percent to 32 percent among citizens aged 18 to 24.”

YouthVote attributes the decline in youth voting to the mass disillusionment among youth with politics, special interests and politicians they feel fail to address their concerns.

A new political party called “Party Y” and its catalyst who goes by the pseudonym “Cousin Sam” aims to curb ongoing voter apathy among youth. Sam’s idea is to create a new vibrant political party aimed at youth, run by youth and that supports issues relevant to youth such as juvenile justice, youth jobs, child poverty electoral reform and education.

Sam plans to form a broad based coalition that works directly with high school students, youth activists doing anti-globalization and anti-sweatshop work, disillusioned democratic and republican youth supporters and Christian youth movements.

“This may sound a little idealistic,” Sam said, “but instead of looking at what divides us, we have to focus on what unites us: namely, our age, our idealism, our ambition and our need for a sense of belonging and meaning in our lives. So, it might be difficult to unite all of America’s scattered youth tribes under one banner — but not impossible.”

Out of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, only 26-year-old Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) is under the age of 30. Sam says this demonstrates an incredible void of youth input into our political process and a great opportunity to recruit viable under-30 candidates.

How does he plan to recruit these candidates?

“A reality TV political road show,” he says. In an attempt to merge the phenomena of reality shows like Fox’s “American Idol” and MTV’s “Road Rules,” Sam will try to grab the attention spans of America’s youth and create the ultimate merger of entertainment and politics. “Party Y” will target 10 congressional districts with a televised political reality road show. “In choosing candidates, members of the audience will vote based on Jeopardy-style contests to test knowledge, head-to-head podium debates to test articulation, Navy Seal obstacle courses to measure stamina and toughness and a talent show,” Sam said.

The most similar attempt to date at attracting student voters was when MTV auditioned students all over the country for its “Choose or Loose 2000” to encourage youth participation in the presidential elections. “Party Y” will take it one step further by actually running youth candidates for office. Some college and high schools students do not share Sam’s optimism though.

“The idea is absolutely ridiculous,” according to Brad Spiegel, a politically active senior at the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor. “While students should run for office and become more politically engaged, many of the issues ‘Party Y’ mentions are issues that deeply divide most students along ideological lines,” he said.

Student environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Sarah Mae Stevens, a junior at George Washington University, disagrees with Spiegel, saying, “I think any effort that aims to motivate young people to participate in the political process is positive. Besides, his reality show is a cool idea as long as it discusses some real issues. I would definitely watch it,” she says.

“The intentions are good and the concept is innovative but it seems really unrealistic to do this as a third party effort. This kind of idea would be better if it was an entity within the established two-party system,” says Evan Immitt an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland-College Park.

“Party Y” is still in production.

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