Monday, February 18, 2008

Rock the vote -- and show up at the polls

Stephen Winn, deputy editorial page editor at the Kansas City Star, wrote a column today in praise of the youth vote. I read it in our local paper, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, while sipping coffee and listening to the blasted north wind whistle through the eaves. Winn applauds the younger generation for turning out in large numbers for Barack Obama. And then he bemoans the fact that Baby Boomers (his generation and mine) "have kind of screwed things up." He then lists the many ways that we have failed: electing George W. Bush not once but twice (maybe only once); lack of reform of Social Security and Medicare; running up the national debt; etc.

While our children get saddled with more of the national debt ($30,000 per person) and a whopping college loan debt (if they can even qualify for assistance), the country's older and oldest Americans keep getting more benefits. Why is that? They vote, work at the polls, write their congressional reps, and join powerful lobbying orgs such as AARP. Some of them even blog. They're loud and they're proud. A huge pain in the ass.

So youngsters, take a page from your elders' handbook and get involved to the point of pain-in-the-ass status. It's already happening, and it's good to see. My 23-year-old son, Kevin, voted in his first presidential election in 2004. He recently voted in the Arizona primary. He's outspoken in his support for Barack Obama, although he's too busy to do much electioneering, at least for now. He's paying for his own school, attending classes full-time and working nights. His girlfriend does the same. They're having a heck of a time finding enough financial aid. But they persevere. They're young and they have big plans.

My daughter is still too young to vote but will be in 2012. That same year, I'll be old enough to get Social Security checks. But I won't as retirement will still be a few years away. Will we have S.S. and Medicare reform by 2012? That depends on whether we have a Democrat as president or a Republican. To ensure that, we have to get to the polls and vote.

Speaking of polls, why is it that I'm the only one there who doesn't remember World War II? Born in 1950, I'm usually the youngest poll worker in my precinct. When we set up our e-voting machines in 2006, many of the poll workers gathered around and stared at the machines much like the primates in "2001: A Space Odyssey" stared at The Sentinel in the film's opening scene. They had about as much knowledge of the technology. We had techs from Diebold available to come in and fix any problems, but we did have to show others how to use the things to cast their vote.

Volunteers at polling places are primarily retirees. Younger people are at school or work or taking care of kids. Would that change if we had elections on weekends instead of weekdays? What if everyone had a paid day off on election day? Why not change polling day and see what happens. Or maybe we should change the entire system. We have local control of polling places, just as we have local control for schools. County clerks are responsible for setting up the system and making sure it runs smoothly.

But we've seen the results, most notably in the 2000 presidential elections. But even the latest round of primaries have shown ballot problems and machine breakdowns. Polling place workers are giving out faulty information, possibly because they forgot to take their morning meds.

So just add the crazy voting system to the things that we Baby Boomers should have fixed but didn't.

I've seen the young people getting involved in this election cycle. Men and women in their 20s and 30s are powering the Obama campaign nationally and right here in Wyoming. I think they see this as their opportunity to take charge of a broken system and make it better. There will be heartbreak and compromise along the way. But it's best not to think about that now. Win first, worry later.

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