What was most shameful was the fact that the future leaders of this country, in the 18-30 years old category, did not show up to the polls. Less than half of the 50 million U.S. citizens in this younger age range cast their vote in November of 2000.
This November we have an election that could be just as close as that of 2000. With the help of groups like the Soapbox Coalition, the goal is to make sure that many of those 18-30-year-olds who did not vote in the last election, make it out to the polls this November.
Soapboxs goal is to educate, motivate and mobilize 18-to-30-year-olds in the political process and just get them involved. We want to show them different avenues to get involved in politics, says Scott OLeary, regional ambassador for the coalition.
In a time when so many groups and committees who claim to be non-partisan are anything but, it seems as though Soapbox genuinely holds to that credo. According to OLeary, the local chapter is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.
He adds that the organizing members have even had some pretty heated debates.
I dont really like to talk about (my personal views) because I dont want people to think that it might overshadow the purpose of our organization. I could tell you that mine are even different from all our members and our president and our executive director. We all have very different views but under the banner of soapbox we try to put all that aside and increase issue awareness and voter turnout, OLeary says.
Because of this outlook, Soapbox never takes a stance on an issue. Instead the group points out certain issues and says that they must be addressed instead of telling its members how to address the situation.
Most young adults do not want to promote the agendas of others, Mitchell says. They want help transitioning into young voters -- without being told how to vote.
The organization was started in January of 2004 by Mike Mitchell who began his career interning in the office of U.S. Sen. Paul D. Coverdell (R-GA). Mitchell found that, even though he was working in Washington, he was not being heard. Even working in the Capital, I was getting ignored, he says. Other politicians would not pay attention to issues important to me until I told them I worked for Senator Coverdell.
With the goal of starting a nonpartisan, political action group Mitchell spent five years prior to 2004 planning and raising funds until the group got off the ground. So far, people seem pleased with the results.
Usually we have found that once we get people at our events, they are pretty enthusiastic. Once they come once, many of them come pretty much every event, OLeary says.
Currently, there are around 70 active members involved with the Traverse City chapter.
Soapbox sponsors a couple of events in the area and has plans to branch out gradually in the future. Were very happy to (have co-sponsored) the event at the Loading Dock with a voter registration and awareness concert as well as the following Sunday as well, OLeary adds.
There are also regular meetings where members can debate and discuss a multitude of issues. We do have a weekly happy hour which we host for our active and new members. Were actually inbetween locations right now and well be letting our members know and passing out flyers as soon as we do set that up. Probably in a week or two and we usually do that on a Tuesday from about 5 or 6 until 8 p.m., he says.
With awareness being one of the main goals, the organization is sponsoring debates between local candidates with the hope that young voters will have a better knowledge of the candidates running in local elections.OLeary says general information forums are also an emphasis.
We are in the basic planning stages of hosting a candidate debate between Barbra Budros and John Foresman who are both running for judge here locally.
Were looking to do that with other candidates as well if theyre interested -- hosting debates or with what we did at the Dennos Museum when we had an open forum. What we did there was we had the Republican, the Democratic and the Green Party county chairs come in and it wasnt a debate -- it was more giving them each 15 minutes to explain what their positions were, how they personally got involved in politics, that kind of thing. After that we had a question and answer session. It actually went fairly well. We had a decent turnout.
As the election approaches, surprisingly enough, voter registration is not seen as the biggest emphasis at this point in the year for Soapbox, according to OLeary.
Locally, voter registration is fairly high. Ive heard as high as in the ninety percentiles. Where I live in East Bay Township its right around 84 percent because of the Motor Voter law that was enacted with the driver license renewal being on the same form as voter registration, he says.
But there is a problem with registration that has nothing to do with getting unregistered voters to register.
Even (those numbers) are kind of misleading because I went in knowing that I had registered to vote before, but I used the online checking program to see how accurate it was and they had no record of me being registered. I went in to the township clerk and they only had my family -- so there must have been an error in my form which actually happens a lot because Ive been talking to other people locally and they had the exact same thing happen. So even though 85% might be high, that could even be misleading because people think theyre registered but theyre not.
Essentially, the statistics regarding the number of registered voters should be even higher.
So, OLeary says, its never a bad idea to check with your township clerk to make sure you are on the list.
A lot of people think theyre registered but even if there is one small mistake, it throws out your ballot. So its always good to do the double check and make sure you have your voting card with you.