THE BLOG
11/05/2012 09:02 am ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

Vote -- It's My Birthday!

Iman is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.

On November 6, 1994, I, and many others, cried for the first time, when we came out of our mothers' wombs. By November 5, 2012 70 percent of us will have consumed alcohol illegally at some point. But, sadly, on November 6, 2012, only 61.6 percent of us will vote in this election. I have the luckiest birthday. I get the best birthday present: the ability to vote. However, many of my fellow birthday-celebrators do not feel the same way as I do: they do not want to vote. This bothers me and it should bother you, too.

When I was 12, I realized that the general election occurs on the first Tuesday of the month -- so my birthday, November 6, could fall on an election day. What if it happened on a presidential election year? So, I jumped onto an online calendar and discovered that my 18th birthday, November 6, fell on a presidential election. Barack Obama wasn't even a big name then, and I was excited just to be able to vote and have a say on issues. My father and I would always go through his ballots and discuss each issue. The idea of voting made me giddy, but he got to cast his ballot and I didn't. This year I get to fill in the bubbles the way I want to. Even though politics suck, let us at least be giddy about having the right to vote, something a lot of people don't have.

Why does it matter? My vote in a presidential race doesn't matter unless I live in a swing state, especially if I'm a Romney fan in Washington. But at least we can have a more accurate popular vote, one which is still in the margin of error on who has majority of the nation's support. Well, what about your state races? What about the race for your state representative? Those matter, don't forget that. My Washington State gubernatorial race is within the margin of error at the moment. I recall when my state's governor's race was decided by a mere 500 votes in a drawn out month-long recall. Plus, who knows what the political landscape and/or polls would be if we got all the other eligible voters to actually vote.

We, tout ourselves as the guardians of democracy, yet we don't even value or participate in one of the most important pillars of democracy, voting. Our "enemy," The theocracy of Iran, has a higher voter turnout rate than we do. Let's change this. Let's vote. Every year, the public, the voters become the customers of the politicians and super-pac ads, looking to score our votes. We watch our nation break out into a civil war over issues and candidates. Even though there are times when politics suck, we have a duty to participate in this process. To be American, we need to vote.

A USA Today poll found that 59 percent of those don't vote claim it's because "Nothing ever gets done; it's a bunch of empty promises"; 54 percent claim that "It is so corrupt"; 42 percent claim "There's not a dime worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans"; 37 percent claim that "It doesn't make much difference in [their] life." Thirty-nine percent of them cannot name the vice-president, Joe Biden.

Clearly, there are issues with the current way our politics run, and we can't fix everything overnight. But there are some simple things that we can do to make people more politically engaged.

Eric Plutzer, a political science professor at Penn State University says that to make a habitual voter, we need to "Convince a young citizen to vote, and he or she will read the newspaper differently, recognize the name of people on the ballot when they're mentioned on television or by a neighbor, and eventually become highly informed. Get them to the polls once, and they will likely vote again and again."

Part of the problem is that a lot of people my age are not interested in politics. Among my cohorts (age 18-29), only 50 percent are registered to vote -- that is 11 percent less than in 2008, the lowest it has been in five Presidential elections, and 20 percent less than the next lowest age demographic of registered voters. This is a problem, and ironically, Iran may actually be a good role model in this.

Up until 2007, the voting age in Iran was 15, when it was raised to 18. Since then, President Ahmadinejad has introduced a bill to lower it back to 15, claiming that "Youth need to become more involved in the building of the country."

Maybe this is one way we can practice what Professor Plutzer says to get young people to polls and in turn have them become more civically engaged for the rest of their lives. Maybe we need to have mandatory mock elections in history classes in high schools. There are a variety of ways to fix this problem, and whatever we are currently doing is not working. Let's fix this.

The nation of the free needs to be number-one in voter turnout -- not last among first-world nations.

Do me a favor on November 6: Remember it's my birthday, don't get me a gift and don't wish me happy birthday, simply vote or get someone else to vote. Please.

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