Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012: Youth is Served

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 11:15 AM


Kelsey Montzka, 21, is a history major at Boise State who works in the campus' Linguistics Laboratory. And Tuesday, Nov. 6, is the first time she has been eligible to vote in a presidential election.

For many young voters the new responsibility for participating in elections is empowering. In 2008, 2 million more young voters than in 2004 helped to sweep Barack Obama into office, but traditionally young voters are among the groups that have the lowest turnout in national elections.

In an election year when the candidates from both major parties are figureheads of their respective political establishments the motivations of enthusiastic young voters are curiosities.

The freshness of the voting experience makes Montzka self-conscious of discussing her political opinions.

"I'm so idealistic," she said.

Her political views are far-flung from the two party divide that dominates American politics, and she counts herself as a federal libertarian and a local socialist. Tuesday she cast her ballot for libertarian candidate Jerry Johnson.

Montzka was home schooled by her parents, whom she described as mainline conservatives, though she said they were tolerant of political views that were not their own appearing in her study materials. It wasn't until she began attending Boise State, however, that her own political identity began to emerge.

"I realized that there was more than one way to solve the country's problems," she said.

The appeal of libertarian politics for her was its simplicity. Libertarianism prioritizes personal liberties and local autonomy over federal power, and that message resonated with Montzka.

"I didn't like the intrusion on privacy and rights. I felt this third party was very consistent," she said.

The other appeal of the libertarian candidate was his staunch opposition to America's armed interventions abroad;notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Montzka, war has compromised America's values and security.

"I love how the libertarian camp is pacifistic. If America tends its garden I can go to bed at night knowing we're not raiding other countries' orchards," she said, alluding to Voltaire's injunction in the final lines of Candide.

For 22-year-old Melody English,the passion for politics doesn't stem from disaffection with wars, the federal deficit or intrusions into personal liberties. English voted in the 2008 election, casting her ballot for Obama, she said, on the basis of pure hype. This year, she resolved to be a more informed voter.

"I voted in the last [election] but I didn't know why. This time was different to me."

After watching all the presidential debates, listening to friends and watching the news, English began a column chart in a notebook to record facts and sources of information to see through the "glazing" of the candidates and divine their campaign positions and determine how they would achieve their goals should they be elected.

"Rather than the he-said-she-said, I looked for the facts," English said. "I stripped away the shiny."

But soon her column chart proved to be inadequate and she made a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the candidates' positions. By Tuesday she had a list of 15 campaign issues she had been following including military spending, tax reform, education financing and women's rights such as abortion and access to birth control.

"I like the circle idea better. I'm a visual person," she said.

English discovered that the issues closest to her heart are the ones that affect her personally and that undertaking the project of better understanding the presidential campaigns has given her a better sense of how her vote matters.

As in 2008, English cast her vote for Obama, but informing herself has caused Obama to lose some of his charms.

"I'm more lackluster about him than ever," she said.

Collating the candidates and the issues she said made her feel better about discussing politics with her friends, but she worries that the partisan divide has made American political discourse toxic.

"I feel like my friends in other countries think our discussions about politics are unhealthy," she said. "I want to vote because it's a healthy thing to do."

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