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The importance of voters going to the polls

10/24/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin puzzles over low voter turnout in U.S. elections.

(Kunin) A headline caught my eye the other morning: "Apathy Cancels Serbian Election." There is a requirement for a 50% in turnout in this new democracy. I wonder if we had the same law, could it happen here? "Apathy Cancels U.S. Election." Ugly power struggles would follow, government would be thrown into chaos. But why is that so few people vote, especially young people?

In this coming election, older Americans will outnumber young people under thirty, two to one. No wonder the key issues in this national campaign are protecting social security and reducing drug costs.

When I campaigned for office, I knew that when I handed out my leaflets at a senior citizen center, I was speaking to voters. I knew when I campaigned on a college campus, there would be slim pickings. Are senior citizen issues turning off our youth? Would politicians hype issues of concern to young people if this constituency became more vocal and visible? With all the talk about war, we would expect young men and women to be highly engaged in the campaign because they would be called to fight. A life or death issue.

Why is it that the United States has such a low voter turnout, skewed to the elderly? Is it the fault of the media, who only seem to focus on what s wrong with politicians? Or, is it the negative commercials, which turn people off? Is it that people feel too uninformed to vote, or do they shrug their shoulders and say, my vote won't make a difference.

When I was campaigning door to door, a man greeted me at the door and proudly said, "I don't vote." It was as if he were saying, "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't vote." No such vice for him.

If men and women of all ages voted in greater numbers, they could easily change the outcome of the election. Why? Not only is there an age gap, there still is a huge gender gap. A Democratic National Committee poll reports that women vote for Democrats roughly 4 to 3, with men voting Republican by a slightly smaller margin. A National Public Radio poll found that of Americans over 55, the results were similar. Each party could make gains if they got their voters to the polls. Women for Democrats and men for Republicans.

This year, with the likelihood that both the governor's race and the lieutenant governor's race will be decided by the Legislature because no candidate may get a majority, it is particularly important that voters go to the polls. And yes, your vote will make a difference.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.
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