Ever since the stampede of excited young voters turned out on caucus day in Iowa, I've been convinced that this election will be the one that delivers on the elusive promises of youth turnout and marks the arrival of a new generation. Whether it's attributable to the intolerable state of American domestic and international affairs, the tanked economy offering us limited opportunities, high gas prices, health insurance, taxes on social security benefits we'll never get to use, an unjust war, a futile preemptive military strategy that has exacerbated the threat of terrorism, the inspirational leadership of Barack Obama, the ease of part-time activism provided by the Internet, or just a plain old coming-of-age awakening: The high stakes facing our country seem to register with a majority of my peers. The desire to act seems notably different than it did in 2004 or 2000.
Still, I had an interesting series of experiences this week which gave me pause regarding the logistics of election day readiness, particularly how this will play out with the first-time voters who are expected to buoy an Obama victory.
On Saturday, my friend and I were registering voters at the USC-Ohio St. football game, and a remarkable number of students were confused about whether they are supposed to vote at home with their parents, at the dorm, or via absentee ballot. This was reinforced today when I was guest lecturing at Occidental college for a political science class. The students there also expressed concerns that the frequently-reported student enthusiasm for Obama and voting is somewhat overplayed (from his own alma mater!), and that people really are burned out on this long election process. (Check out Northwestern University's recent Media Management Center report on this burnout, which I wrote about last week in Editor & Publisher.)
I also spoke with several low-income service employees working at the USC game who said they are concerned that they'll be able to be away from work long enough to cast their votes. It's alarming to consider that people will make the effort to participate, but that polling places might not be ready to accommodate them. I heard about so many instances like this during the primary election that I'm considering being a poll worker on election day as a way to help make sure that every vote gets counted. I can still remember staying up all night in November of 2000, feeling like if I just stayed awake long enough the commentators would declare that George Dub had not actually won the election and it was just a vivid nightmare.
If you are also afraid of such a scenario repeating itself during this critical election, I encourage you to get your friends and family registered to vote. My friends at Declare Yourself have a very user-friendly system that explains all you need to know. For the social networking fiends, there is also a great Facebook app called Your Revolution, which makes the process a snap.