Civic Engagement and the Internet

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Throughout modern history, people have fought and died for the right to vote in multiparty elections. In many nations, people have risen up and deposed military dictators so they could vote and in many nations that struggle still continues today. In our nation, the struggle for the right to vote continued for over a century after the U.S. Constitution granted voting rights to white male landowners. It took over a century before American women were given the right to vote. African-Americans have had the constitutional right to vote for 130 years, but it wasn't until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before these rights were enforced by federal authorities. Eighteen-year-olds were granted the right to vote more than three decades ago. Democracy, even in America, is a hard-won right. Despite the precious nature of democracy, about half of Americans who are eligible don't bother to vote. Today, almost every American eighteen and older is eligible to vote, but many Americans don't seem to want to take the trouble. The age group least likely to vote in American elections is young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. The legitimacy of a democracy depends on voter turnout and we will not have a legitimate, stable system unless more citizens participate. There are many reasons why people choose not to vote, but what can be done to reverse the trend? Recently there has been a quiet but radical revolution shaking the very foundations of American politics and culture. While the sounds of television blare from living rooms across the country and magazines and newspapers pile up beside the couch, another sound is being heard much more frequently. It is the sound of Americans quietly tapping away on the keyboards of their home computers. As more and more Americans go online, one thing is clear; the web is changing every aspect of American life. Tens of millions of people now tune out the nightly network television news and are drastically unsubscribing to newsprint in favor of using the Internet as their primary source of news and information about the outside world. Could the Internet and information technology be used as a legitimate tool for solving the lack of voter turnout and civic participation in America today? With practice and expansion of the Internet's role the answer will hopefully be yes. By targeting the younger generations of Americans who are growing up with the Internet as a central part of their education and with rapid advancements in information technology which elicit excitement and enthusiasm from young Americans who love gadgets and new technology, they will be the generation to reverse the trend of poor voter turnout. Even though young adults are the age group least likely to vote, it is their enthusiasm for new technologies that might be the catalyst necessary for encouraging more young adults to exercise their opinions in the voter booth. Although the Internet is becoming second nature for many young people, new forms of online civic practice need to grow and expand to fulfill its full potential as an empowering medium. Poor voter turnout and a lack of civic engagement should not fall solely on the shoulders of the younger generation. No single generation or age bloc comes close to 70% turnout ( so the younger generation should feel bad, but not alone. Extensive research on voter turnout by Thomas Patterson culminated in his book entitled The Vanishing Voter: Civic Engagement in a Time of Uncertainty. His findings show that the period from 1960 to 2000 was the longest decline in voter turnout in our nation's history. With the exception of the 1984 presidential election in which turnout rose by 1%, the percentage fell steadily from the high water mark of 65% in 1960. The alarms sounded for political scientists in the 1996 presidential election when more Americans chose to stay home than those that chose to exercise their civic duty...