November 5, 2005
Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury paid a visit to Keith Bassham’s advanced placement U.S. History class Thursday morning to give the students a lesson on the importance of voting.
One of Bradbury’s jobs is to oversee elections in the state, and he has noticed a “disturbing trend” in who’s voting and who’s not.
“We are increasingly seeing younger voters not participating,” Bradbury said.
He said that when the Constitution was amended in 1972 to allow 18-year-olds to vote, that year had the biggest voter turnout ever; but every year since has seen a decline in numbers.
To illustrate the current voting situation, Bradbury suggested the class, numbering about 30, could represent voters in Oregon. They would participate in a mock election and vote on three different ballot measures.
“First we need to determine who the voters are,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of Oregonians are under the age of 18, and too young to vote – so eight of you are too young.”
Eight students were counted off and wouldn’t be voting.
“The first thing you have to do in order to vote is register,” he continued. “Only 72 percent of Oregonians 18 and older are registered. So six of you are old enough but didn’t register.”
So, six more members of the class wouldn’t be voting.
“Last year in the primary election, 47 percent of registered voters actually voted,” Bradbury said. Eight more students were counted off to represent registered non-voters. That left 8 “voters” out of the class of 30.
“Now, I’ve got to assume that all of you trust these eight kids to make your decisions for you,” he said. “I’m not making these numbers up – that’s what’s going on in the state of Oregon.”
Since the median age of voters in a low-turnout election is 60, Bradbury asked the four students in the front row to vote as they thought their grandparents would vote, effectively raising the median age of the eight voters.
The three ballot measures were ones that would affect the lives of 18-year-olds.
One asked whether Oregon workers aged 14-18 should receive a “sub-minimum wage” of $1 less per hour than the state-approved minimum wage.
Another asked whether there should be mandatory drug testing for middle and high school students who participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities.
The third ballot asked whether, due to the continued high accident rate for teen drivers, the age to qualify for an instruction permit should be raised from 15 to 17, and the age to qualify for a driver’s license should be raised from 16 to 18.
Before each vote, the whole class participated in lively discussion and debate.
Points were brought up on both sides of each issue.
But when it was time to vote, only the eight voters were allowed to vote.
The results: The sub-minimum wage measure failed, 7-1; mandatory drug testing in middle and high schools also failed, 6-2.
But the measure to raise the ages at which driver’s permits and licenses could be issued passed, 5-3.
“How does it feel to have other people actually make these decisions for you?” Bradbury asked.
“Not good” and “frustrating.” were among the answers being murmured.
“Why do you think, particularly, younger people don’t vote?” he asked.
Some thought kids don’t care, some suggested they don’t feel they know enough about the issues, or that they feel their votes don’t count anyway or have lost faith in the fairness of the system.
Bradbury admitted that voters’ pamphlets can be a little overwhelming, with all the published arguments that are submitted, pro and con.
He suggested that voters go straight to the explanatory statement and fiscal impact statement for each measure.
Those statements are drafted by two supporters and two opponents, and one independent party that they both agree on, so those are the most balanced source of information.
“The most important thing is to really understand the measure,” he said.