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Guest Column: Encouraging Ohio's Graduates to Get Involved

It’s June and that means high school graduates are celebrating across Ohio. As these young men and women are busy preparing to take their next steps in life – going off to college, joining the military or becoming part of the workforce – there is one “to do” that I hope will be on each and every one of their lists: Registering to vote.

This spring I devoted four weeks to touring Ohio high schools spreading the word about “Grads Vote,” an initiative sponsored by my office to educate graduating seniors about their right to vote. The tour was particularly significant as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment which lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971. I made it to nearly 20 schools to discuss this important anniversary and encourage Ohio’s newly eligible voters to get involved.

The 26th amendment enfranchised 11.4 million 18-to-20-year-olds who were eager to have a say in their democracy. Who, according to a TIME magazine article from that year, learned the political lesson: if you don't have the vote, they can ignore you. When the amendment passed 18-year-olds were excited to get involved. Many of them were going to war for our country, but they didn’t yet have a voice at the voting booth.

Now, just 40 years later, the right to vote at 18 is a given. Registering to vote is not the first thing one thinks about on their 18th birthday and remembering to vote at every election is not always a priority. Take the midterm election in 2010. Only about 24 percent of all eligible young people ages 18-29 voted across the nation and Ohio’s numbers were even lower, with about 21 percent of all eligible young people ages 18-29 voting.

My message to students as I visited schools on the Grads Vote tour was simple. They have every reason, if not more, to vote in 2011 as those young voters did in 1971. Every election has an impact on their lives. The individuals elected today go on to run our local, state and federal government. They make important decisions at every level that touch the lives of voters and non-voters alike.

I often use the example of the national debt to illustrate the importance of voting. The current debt for our country is more than $14 trillion. To pay this off in full today, every person in the U.S., including every eligible young voter, would owe around $46,000. That’s a lot of money to owe without having a say in how it’s managed. The only way we can have a say in these matters, is to vote.

The people we elect represent us in the U.S. Congress, determining how to spend our money, what needs to be done to address our debt, and how much we should all contribute in taxes. Young adults need to understand that by choosing not to participate in our elections, they are forfeiting their voice in the decision making process and allowing other people to make important decisions that will affect their generation. They can’t afford not to get involved.

The good news is, getting involved is simple. To anyone who is 18 now or will be by November 8th - fill out a voter registration form, submit it by October 11th and vote on Election Day November 8th. Keep your registration updated with your current address as you move forward in life. Stay informed of upcoming elections. And vote whenever you have the opportunity. It’s that easy.

The importance of registering and voting in every election cannot be overstated – it is a right that comes with enormous responsibility. Participation gives everyone a voice. It’s the chance to help determine the outcome for local, state and national issues and races – which impact all of our lives.

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