Yes, voting really does matter
September 9, 2014
One of my favorite local activities is attending the Nevada County Fair each August. This year the weather was great and last year's controversy surrounding elephant rides was gone. Locals mingled with visitors, families and extended families alike experienced great music, exhibits, farm animals, Treat Street food, and carnival rides for all ages, while the fair staff was, as always, courteous and helpful.
I also spent some time at a fair booth registering voters. Nevada County has a large percentage of eligible voters registered already, which is great, but there are always people reaching voting age, moving to our county, moving within the county, or changing party affiliation. It was no different this year, with one disappointing exception: more young adults than ever appear uninterested in voting.
Fortunately, not all young adults feel this way and some I met were enthusiastic about the coming election, but I heard many young people say, "No, I'm not registered," or "I don't vote," or "It doesn't make any difference anyway." I was surprised by those comments.
Are schools not teaching the history of voting rights in our country? Do young adults not understand the struggles that took place before women, minorities and 18 year olds were given the right to vote? Are parents not explaining what elected representatives are supposed to do to serve their constituents? Is the media creating a negative perception of government? Are politicians their own worst enemies, souring our new generation of voters?
Your opinion might not always be the majority opinion, but your right to vote represents what is best about our country. Don’t miss your opportunity to exercise that right this fall.
Do younger eligible voters care more about social media, money, their next job, apartment, car, boy or girl friend? Maybe they are too occupied to pay attention to whether or not they will have to eventually pay for a paper bag to take their groceries home? If you believe the answer is yes to any of the above, you likely understand what's happening.
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The challenge for those of us who advocate for increased voter turnout is huge. Let's face it, for the most part politicians are boring and one special interest group or another is omnipresent trying to influence public opinion on most issues.
Add to that a misplaced perception that "it doesn't make any difference anyway," and the importance of voting slides down the list of "must do this" for a growing number of people. But I guess it's understandable that many folks are turned off to voting when you consider all the negativity and innuendo that is spread around during campaigns at every level.
Voting needs to be interesting, positive, upbeat and worthwhile. Candidates need to promote a message of achievement and cooperation. Ballot issues must offer workable solutions to controversial topics. And voters need to believe that their opinion is valued, whether it's the majority or minority opinion. Our democracy depends on this.
The "top two" system in California of selecting candidates for November runoffs is still not well understood. In some respects, the June Primary Election is more important than run-off elections in November. Couple that with low voter turnouts, especially among women and young adults, and you can see why I am concerned.
Nevada County residents should be especially energized about voting when you consider that two of our pioneers authored Constitutional Amendments affecting the right and privilege to vote.
William Stewart, this county's second district attorney and later a U.S. Senator from Nevada, wrote the words of the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude;" and Aaron Sargent, our fourth district attorney and later a U.S. Senator from California, introduced the words that in 1920 were finally ratified as the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
With a voting rights legacy such as ours, Nevada County should have the highest voter turnout in the state.
I believe we need a strong, representative government from the local level to the nation's capital, and we need men and women ready to work for all the people and understand the principle of compromise. Electing them is our responsibility.
Your opinion might not always be the majority opinion, but your right to vote represents what is best about our country. Don't miss your opportunity to exercise that right this fall.
Jim Firth, who lives in Grass Valley and is chairperson of the Nevada County Democratic Central Committee, is a candidate for Grass Valley City Council.