By: Diana Dizoglio – July, 2012
About a year ago, I wrote an article regarding civic engagement and community involvement. The article was inspired out of my encounter with a group of high school honor students from the Merrimack Valley. In the piece, I discussed the lack of understanding that the students seemed to have had regarding local and state government. I stated the following:
“The problem is not with the obviously smart and talented students who have earned high MCAS scores, landed college scholarships and received academic awards. Also, since they could answer questions based on what they had learned in class, I doubt it has to do with the teachers. When mandated curriculum leaves little time and space for teachers to emphasize the importance of local and state government, something’s got to give.”
This was of concern to me then, and is still of concern to me now. I believe that the lack of civic education in our school systems is one of many reasons for low voter turnout in local and state elections.
Lately, however, the issue of voter ID seems to be the topic of discussion in local media outlets. For this reason, it has come up in many of the conversations I have had with constituents. I do not make decisions based on sensationalism and media hype. Instead, I take time to thoughtfully discuss present day issues with the residents I hope to represent. I also like to hear all sides of an issue before making a decision.
After months of going door-to-door and hearing constituent concerns, and after having carefully reflected on this issue’s significance, I have concluded that I would be in support of a voter ID initiative. I have knocked on thousands of doors and found that the vast majority of people I have spoken with, in the 14th Essex District, support voter ID.
Many people have conveyed their opinion that this is another way to be certain that our elections are fair. They are concerned with the level of transparency among decision makers in state government and believe that voter ID is commonsensical.
I have had constituents bring up the fact that we have to show an ID to get onto an airplane, drive a car, drink an alcoholic beverage, and sometimes even to see a movie. No ID is required, however, when it comes to electing the leaders who create these laws.
Some feel that voter ID would discourage people from coming out to vote or that it would be the cause of low voter turnout. Although I understand why people might believe this to be the case, and while I respect their opinion, I have had to agree to disagree. Currently, no ID is required to vote and the turnout for our district has already been extremely low in recent years.
I believe that voter apathy stems from disenchantment with the current system and lack of education regarding the issues. It will take considerable work to increase voter turnout and to bring more accountability to the legislature.
I hope to be able to work with residents of the 14th Essex district as State Representative on some initiatives that may help to tackle this matter.
Here in Massachusetts, it is required that students pass the MCAS in order to obtain a high school diploma. What is not required, however, is fully educating students on the process and people that established this and other requirements. How can we expect people to come out to vote if they do not really know why or for whom they are voting? Regarding mass education, Thomas Jefferson stated, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” The public education system was meant to empower citizens to better understand the issues so as to protect and improve the state of our communities.
MGL Chapter 71, sec 2. – http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter71/Section2
I am in favor of civic education initiatives that would counter apathetic attitudes about voting. I also support allowing young people to pre-register to vote. This ensures they will be able to vote immediately upon turning 18, which will set the pace for increasing voter turnout in upcoming years.
Finally, several constituents have suggested that elections be held on the weekend, when working people as well as students, are generally more likely to have some time off. Elections are usually held on Tuesdays and sometimes on Thursdays–such as the primaries this year, which are scheduled for Sept. 6th.
Holding elections during the week suppresses the turnout of working class families. Many of us go to work, commute, and have common responsibilities such as helping children with homework. This is, therefore, another initiative I would consider supporting to encourage voter turnout.
It was when I started hearing from constituents that I began to deeply consider these issues. In this political climate, I understand why people are concerned about both transparency in the election process and low voter turnout. We have to continue to talk about the difficult topics in order to produce results. I thank those of you who made your voice heard as it has allowed me to become more informed regarding these issues.
I look forward to speaking more with constituents as we continue to progress toward the primary.