lisa-thelwell_web.jpgOn June 17 in Zimbabwe, observers accounted for two victims shot dead by political groups in efforts to intimidate and steal the upcoming run-off presidential election.

While some people are literally dying for the right to vote, citizens of the United States, who are guaranteed the constitutional right to vote, do not exercise their right.
The United States has a documented and unrelenting history of disenfranchisement. African-Americans and women were not always afforded the right to vote. But decades of advocacy for equal rights has finally protected every United States citizen’s fundamental human right to vote.

Why is it that voter turnout has not reached soaring levels despite these historical struggles? Our low voter turnout reflects  disrespect for our form of government and our civic rights. We have the right, in fact the responsibility, to change and correct any shortcomings of our government.

As a nation, we tend to be the first to complain when our government does not respond in an expected manner. We are also the first to shovel out a pile of excuses, such as, “I am too  busy to reach the polls’’ or  “I did not register in time.”  My absolute favorite is, “My vote does not matter.”

What do you mean, “My vote doesn’t matter?” The bottom line is that without our votes, the best candidate will not be elected. And without your vote, you have no right to complain when the government is in shambles. It is our duty and responsibility to tell the government what we want.

I am one of the 44 million eligible young voters. We are between the ages of 18 and 29 years old and are described as an exclusive group of individuals because we have a tight grip on more than one fifth of the total electorate. Young voters have managed to increase their turnout rate more than any other age group. 

In Florida, the registered Democrats saw an increase from 42,771 to 157,493 for the young voter population alone. Registered Republicans also experienced a large increase in their young voter turnout with an increase from 41,970 to 136,145.

Furthermore, young voters are the most diverse group of young people in history. According to the Rock the Vote campaign, this group is 61 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 4 percent Asian. Each group represents a variety of needs that are present in each community.

While these numbers are significant and show that young people are becoming mobilized and active, we can do better. When speaking to other young people, I often come across individuals who feel like their voice will never be loud enough to be heard.

Young people often feel unimportant and neglected by a government concerned with a never-ending war in Iraq, rising foreclosures, outrageous health care costs and Social Security concerns. The fact of the matter is all of these issues affect young people.

As a college student, I am comfortable saying that most, if not all, college students have experienced a first-person view of the diminishing economy. Skyrocketing gasoline prices have decreased the number of times I am willing to make the five-hour drive from my university to my family.

Further, dramatic increases in tuition expenses prove that the current economic situation is worse than what is portrayed by the government. We are graduating from college, after investing thousands of dollars into our future, only to find that it is difficult to actually get hired because the number of jobs available is dwindling.

On Aug. 26 and Nov. 4, you will not only face the decision of whom to elect to lead our country. You will also face decisions of local political races and proposed constitutional amendments to our state government.  The right to vote is an informed vote. I urge you to reference to gather further information related to the proposed amendments.

If every young person were to lift their voice higher than the confines of their living rooms and take it to the polls, they would be heard.

As a young voter, I challenge you to take control of your government. Utilize the rights that those before us have fought so hard to protect. Utilize the rights that so many others are still fighting and dying for. 

Lisa Thelwell is a senior at the University of Florida, where she is studying Business Administration with minors in African-American Studies and Leadership.  She is the former president of the Jamaican-American Students Association (JAMSA) and a summer intern with the law firm of delancyhill, P.A. in Miami.