November 1, 2012
By Katy Murphy
This week, a group of boisterous teenagers marched down to a ballot box a few blocks from their school. The first-time voter contingent and their sign-holding supporters whooped and chanted all the way to the Alameda County Courthouse, eliciting friendly toots from passing cars.
“I feel like I’m always complaining about what’s wrong with the world,” said Di’Jahnay Stewart, a Dewey Academy student who turned 18 on May 23 and registered to vote shortly thereafter. “I feel like if I vote, at least it’ll mean something.”
Many young Americans aren’t as quick to exercise their new electoral power. Although they voted in larger numbers in 2004 and 2008 than they had in decades, their turnout was still the lowest of any age group. For all the buzz surrounding the 2008 presidential race, for all the YouTube videos and the plugs on MTV, just 41 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds and 47 percent of 21- to 24-year-olds reported voting in that election. By contrast, 58 percent of all age groups and 68 percent of those 65 and older went to the polls that year, according to a survey of noninstitutionalized adults by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I’m finding a shocking number of young people who just won’t vote,” said Deanita Lewis, a parent leader who has long been involved in Oakland’s public schools. The reasons she most often hears? “‘My vote doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter. Nothing’s going to change.'”
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