Editorial: Back to Civics 101

By: Jan Alex

In this year’s General Election, voting turned out to be problematic for most Americans. Some found it hard to vote for any of the candidates in good conscience, and some found it harder to vote at all. In fact, only 55.4% of eligible American voters found the motivation to get out of the house and to a polling station on November 8th . American voter turnout hit a 20-year low this election season, and while I’m sure plenty of those who chose to abstain were full-grown adults, I can guarantee you that a large percentage were young adults. I say this with confidence because 18-29-year-olds had the lowest turnout rate of any group of voters in the nation this year, and they have held that title for the last few election seasons.(http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data)

In fact, not voting has become so commonplace among the country’s young people that it is almost popular to do so. Multiple celebrities, from Kanye West to Tom Brady and even former President George W. Bush, have publicly noted their choice to leave the ballot blank. In doing so, they have all given validation to a dangerous belief that voting is useless, a scam, and an optional responsibility. While I, for one, believe the Electoral College system needs to be re-evaluated, the notion that voting is unimportant is not only Grade-A foolishness. It is downright un-American.

The problem is that too many young Americans either don’t understand the historical significance of the right to vote in our country or simply don’t know enough about how our government works. Some will claim that they know enough to know that their vote doesn’t matter (which is false), and some simply don’t know enough. It should go without saying, but if you don’t understand something, it’s hard to have faith in it. The unfortunate truth is that too many young Americans don’t know a great deal about the government and the political system they claim to dislike and want no part of.

The underlying cause of this problematic trend is certainly up for debate, and although the true answer is probably far more complex than “lack of education,” education could very well be the key to solving the problem.

One possible solution is to require all U.S. high school students to pass some form of the citizenship test that is given to immigrants applying for citizenship. This might seem silly at first, but what is more silly is that when it comes to understanding the workings of the government and the privileges of the American citizen, immigrants are held to a higher standard than those who are born here. Eight states — Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin — are already on the right track and now have laws requiring their high-school students to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school.(http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2015/08/more_states_adopt_civic_test_a.html)

The implications of enacting a nation-wide mandatory civics test could be huge. In a nation whose recent election was stained with misinformation, low voter turnout, and downright false statements from candidates and supporters alike, raising the bar for civics education seems like a step in the right direction. Our nation needs to begin to take politics, government, and even citizenship far more seriously. Thomas Jefferson said it best: If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.