Baby boomers (myself included) will remember what a momentous event it was when 18-year-olds got the vote in 1971. So why has voting among the 18-to-25 demographic declined by approximately 15 percent since then? Eisner, a syndicated columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, argues that there’s been, among young people, a kind of unconscious trade-off between voting and community service, which—with its instant, if often fleeting, results—has witnessed a dramatic upswing. As a result, Eisner argues, many have come to internalize the message that “voting is optional.”
The problem, as Eisner emphasizes, is that while its effects are less immediately evident, only voting can address such issues as environmental degradation, educational funding, and foreign policy. To change this nonparticipatory state of affairs, Eisner wants to increase civic education so that students will be better informed about their rights and responsibilities in a democracy.
Whether such knowledge will translate into action is unclear. More pragmatic, perhaps, is her suggestion that we ease restrictive voting laws—in seven states, for instance, an individual must vote for the first time in his or her home district—that too often keep increasingly mobile young citizens from voting.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2004 edition of Teacher as Taking Back the Vote