Losing Out On Democracy
September 7, 2006 6:57 PM
Previously unaware of the upcoming local, state and national elections, SF State student Rinaldi Ravenera admits now that he knows about them, he probably still won’t vote this November.
“I would like to do these things, but I guess it’s the fact that I’m lazy,” said BECA major Ravenera, 23. “I myself have never seen a direct benefit from voting.”
Among the identities ascribed to this generation is one of political apathy, and as the state prepares for the Nov. 7 elections with fundraising dinners and campaigning, some students are reinforcing this identity.
“I am taking my voice away, but I’ve never felt that my voice made much of a difference anyway,” Ravenera said.
And Ravenera might be right.
Francis Neely, an assistant professor in the SF State political science department, agrees with Ravenera.
“The argument that your vote can make a difference is deluded. It’s probably one of the reasons why voter turnout is so low,” Neely said. “If there is no choice on the ballot, if there’s no competition between candidates, then I understand why people don’t turnout.”
Neely said lack of choice and competition is the result of a poorly structured voting system hindered by practices such as gerrymandering, the selective redrawing of districts.
“I’m generally dissatisfied. If you’re talking about the general electoral process, our system could be much healthier,” Neely said.
Despite an ailing system, there are some who think voter participation is a key to creating a government that represents its people and is accountable.
“Voter participation is the most basic form of civic engagement and it’s important that people go out to the ballots and express their opinions at a young age,” said Kelly Komasa, program coordinator of the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at SF State.
Although the ICCE has yet to plan outreach for the coming elections, according to Komasa, methods such as tabling, classroom presentations and voter education on voting events and ballot initiatives are planned.
But this may be more of an exercise in self gratification than democracy.
Neely likened the act of voting to performing in a “play.” The process of studying a voter information booklet, of waiting in line outside of a neighbor’s garage to vote and of taking an “I voted!” sticker from a slightly bored election monitor, is all done to achieve a feeling.
“The reason why people turnout, is not because their vote makes a difference but because it makes them feel good,” Neely said. “It’s the one place where we feel connected to government.”
Even so, Neely said this “play” is sometimes important for other reasons.
“One reason to turnout is to voice your opinion on the ballot initiatives,” he said. “It’s one of the few areas of our society where we have direct democracy.”
For some students, however, there is still a desire to see more participation from their peers.
“I don’t think people realize what a big role these elections play in our daily lives,” said SF State history major Alexandra Waldhorn, 22.
History major Andrew Sullivan, 27, agrees.
“I wish people were more interested. Period.”
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