Tony Chavira over at the urban-living blog FourStory recently posted a melancholy piece about his efforts to vote in the May 19 election. Seems his usual Monterey Park voting spot had been changed and he ended up going to three different locations before he was finally handed a provisional ballot at a Chinese church. Even here things were bumpy, as his name was misspelt several times and his voting number was initially misaligned with the number on the provisional ballot envelope. The patient Chavira couldn't help but notice, during his travails, that “the mean age of the volunteers I interacted with must've been 70, and the mean age of voters I interacted with at each precinct must've been 10 years older than that.”
He began to ask himself the inevitable questions about the younger electorate (assuming it didn't evaporate after helping send Barack Obama to the White House last November) — namely, “Does our generation not enjoy voting?” Chivara charitably suggests that perhaps he didn't encounter anyone under 70 at the polling station because his age group does all its voting by mail. This sounds reasonable but not very convincing, given last week's L.A. County turnout of under 18 percent. Instead, the explanation somewhat rhymes with the equally generous hypothesis that newspapers are dying because the young do all their reading online — not because they're uncurious about current events.
On the other side of the county, a UCLA Daily Bruin story shows that not only are the kids very much into voting, they're apparently also very stoked on polishing the tricks of old-fashioned machine politics. During a recent student election campaign, the student newspaper sent a reporter to a pizza party thrown by Bruins United at the Hillel Center; Hillel, the Jewish student organization, had endorsed the candidate slate of Bruins United, which is UCLA's incumbent party. Among other things, the party supports student funding of campus religious organizations.
Although there are student election rules barring campaigning while a
student is in the process of voting, the reporter, Audrey Kuo, was
repeatedly asked if she had voted, then handed a laptop and plied with
several videos of Bruins United candidates. (Kuo had told the Bruins
United volunteers she was just there for the pizza.) The Bruins United
workers kept pressuring Kuo, however softly, to vote on the spot; when
she tried to excuse herself from the party, three people wearing Bruins
United shirts encouraged her to stay and vote — and handed her a flier
listing the group's candidates, just to “help.”
Perhaps these shenanigans seem far removed from the realities of
“adult” governance, but a closer look may reveal some disturbing
similarities. Maybe the reason Tony Chavira didn't see many young
people voting was not because they're apathetic, but because by the end
of college they've already soured on politics as usual.