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The polls show that this could be one of the closest presidential
elections in recent history. Every vote is an important vote. However,
young adults, ages 18-24, the group that arguably has the most to gain
or lose in this election, is the group least likely to show up at the
ballot box.

A recently released poll sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation
and MTV found that only 46 percent of those younger than 25 say they are
“absolutely” certain to vote on Nov. 7, compared to 64 percent of all
adults polled. The number of people who say they will vote is usually
much higher than the number of people who actually cast their ballots,
so the turnout among our young people is expected to be quite low.

This is the group that, if war breaks out, will be expected to fight
it. This is the group that, over a lifetime, will be picking up the
lion’s share of the tap for the new spending proposals offered by the
two major party candidates. This group could be affected in very
different ways by the tax cuts proposed by George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Also, one of the candidates, Bush, is offering these younger workers a
chance to own and invest a portion of their Social Security
contributions.

Why so little interest? After all, many of these same young adults
hardly could wait to get behind the wheel of a car or try out other
privileges reserved for adults. It is not as though they are
disinterested in what is going on around them. On the contrary, the
survey found these young people have strong opinions on all the
hot-button issues that divide the major candidates.

Vicky Rideout, who directed the survey for Kaiser, says that it’s
part of a national trend showing voter participation among young adults
down every year except one, since 18-year-olds were given the right to
vote in 1972.

Why are the same teen-agers, who were so anxious to drive around the
block for the first time, so much less interested in picking the leaders
who will drive their country? Could it be because they have been riding
in cars all their lives, but never have been driven to a polling place,
a candidate’s rally, a meeting at city hall or a legislative session?

Is it too much to expect that a child, who never has had any real
experience with the political process, will reach his or her 18th
birthday and say, “Gee, I think I’ll walk a precinct!” Good citizens
are not born; they are made. We have to plant the seeds and grow them
from the ground up until they are full-fledged, registered, anxious
voters.

Most of us look forward to the holidays because we were conditioned
by our parents to celebrate them. Holiday traditions are passed from
generation to generation. If you care about your children’s future and
the future of this country, why not begin some traditions for your
family leading up to Election Day, with some built-in rewards and
expectations?

After you’ve examined some of the candidates running for office,
select three or four to present to your children. Tell them a little
about each office, and what each candidate’s election would mean to your
state or your town. You might select a race for Congress, the state
legislature or a seat on the city council or the school board. Then,
pass out some paper ballots and hold an election to decide which of
these candidates your family will actively support. That means you will
do something together — as a family — to help your candidate win. Go
down to campaign headquarters, put up a yard sign and pass out some
campaign literature in your neighborhood. Perhaps you could call ahead
and find out if there is a job that would be suitable for children. You
might go down on a Saturday morning and stuff envelopes. End the outing
with a picnic at the park or a trip to the ice cream shop as a reward
for a job well done.

The last Saturday before the election could become precinct-walking
Saturday. Again, top off the day with something fun to celebrate your
accomplishments, like a cookout or a movie.

Finally, on the day of the election, bring the kids home from school
and have them take a nap in order to attend the election night party
with you. Let them experience first-hand the “thrill of victory,” or
“the agony of defeat,” for something that really matters. The next
morning let the kids sleep in and go to school at noon. Write the
teachers a note a little ahead and let them know why your children won’t
be in on time. The lessons they learn from this experience will be much
more valuable than anything they possibly could learn at school that
day. Perhaps their teachers will let them tell their classes about
their experiences.

If your candidate wins, arrange to pay him or her a visit at city
hall, or your state capitol or even Washington, D.C., in order to see
your representative at work.

These are only a few suggestions. You can come up with a lot more of
your own. The important thing is consistency. Do these same things
every election and citizenship will become a part of your family
tradition. When your children become 18, they will be as anxious to
cast their ballots as they are to drive the family car on their own.
Why not begin this very week? Grow some good citizens from the ground
up.

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