Young voters: Where are they?
Could one reason be that the county also has one of the oldest populations in the state?
It’s simply a fact that older people are more apt to vote than their grandchildren in any given election. Although the gap lessened in 2008 due mainly to the popularity of now- President Barack Obama to young voters seeking “hope and change,” the difference was still sharp. Some 68.1 percent of voters over 65 cast ballots in the 2008 Presidential election; only 46.6 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 24 went to the polls.
Vina Mikesell of Northport, president of the Leelanau County unit of the League of Women Voters, wishes the trend would go away. The League provides information about registering to vote — it’s too late to register for Tuesday's Primary election, but there’s still time before the General election set for Nov. 6 — on its website, and goes out of its way to encourage younger people to flex their political muscle in the ballot booth.
“We tried to register young people recently, and didn’t get any takers. So it was a little discouraging,” she said.
Volunteers with the county League of Women Voters chapter offered to organize a voter sign-up booth at the Democratic Presidential caucus held in May in the County Governmental Center. The Democratic party asked local school districts to notify members of the senior class that they could register to vote at the caucus — but none showed. Mikesell said the League of Women Voters, listed as a non-partisan organization, was acting independent of the Democratic Party.
She’s concerned that young people who don’t vote early in life never will. “Voting is a right and a privilege and a habit. Once you establish that habit, you’re much more likely to do so for the rest of your life,” she said.
Mikesell has made it a point to vote after the sense of duty was instilled in her by her parents. She was prepared in 1964 to enter the voting booth for the first time — or at least she thought.
“My first election was when Lyndon Banes (Johnson) was running against Barry Goldwater. I was away at college, and came home to register, and I was too late. And I was certain that my vote was going to make the difference. I was mortified,” she recalled.
Johnson ran away with the election, winning in 48 out of 50 states.
Mikesell continued, “The League of Women Voters believes its mission is to educate voters so they know what the issues are, and what the candidates stand for. We have information about forums and candidates, and they can be found at our website.”
So why don’t young people vote? One political science major working in Leelanau County suggests several reasons.
Alex Baker, who is working at Fountain Point Resort in Lake Leelanau this summer, said there was a reason candidate Ron Paul filled the Michigan State University Auditorium while in East Lansing during his bid for the Republican nomination. Baker, 20, is a student at James Madison College, whose offerings include a heavy dose of political science classes.
“There are a lot of simple issue voters,” Baker said. Paul’s stance against military intervention in other countries and the legalization of marijuana — basically, libertarian stances — appeal to young voters, yet are not represented in 2012 Presidential candidates Obama and Mitt Romney.
To improve voter turnout among young people “more choices are needed than are provided in the twoparty system,” Baker suggested.
He is disappointed in a lack of curiosity for politics among young people. “I don’t think once you get into the details (of the platforms of Obama and Romney) that they could tell the difference between the two candidates,” Baker said.
Baker, like Mikesell, learned that he was not registered to vote when he was first eligible in the 2010 Congressional election. But now he’s registered in Okemos — and fully expects to exercise his right.
“This will be my first Presidential election,” he said, proudly.