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Saving the vote

Young cyclists on a mission to stir up youth

Bike for Youth Votes crusader Jonas Parker engages students at Winston Churchill High School in Eugene, Oregon  

In this story:

Biking for votes

Slipping statistics

On the trail

More than a privilege


Andrew Goodman. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Medgar Evers.

Are their names familiar? Let's try some different ones.

Lyndon B. Johnson. Susan B. Anthony. Martin Luther King Jr.

Are you more aware of their fame than their fight?

Each had a significant role in securing the right to vote for people who were denied that opportunity.

Evers was a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who was encouraging African-Americans to register to vote when a gunman shot him outside his Mississippi home. Goodman, a New Yorker, met the same fate. He, too, was in Mississippi during the civil rights movement to help people register to vote when he was murdered.

Since the United States began the election process, there have been restrictions on who could vote. At one time, only white males who owned property had the privilege.

Thousands of Americans, including those listed above, fought to secure that right for women and African-Americans. Some gave their lives. But now, millions of Americans do not sacrifice their time to cast a ballot. And that trend is growing with young voters.

Biking for votes

As Brian Goldberg, right, watches, fellow cyclist and voter advocate Ben Bruder discusses the importance of getting politically involved to students  

Three 23-year-old recent college graduates are trying to reverse and prevent voter apathy among young people.

In their Bike for Youth Votes crusade, Brian Goldberg, Jonas Parker and Ben Bruder are visiting numerous high schools to get future voters excited about the process. The threesome stops at colleges along their 1,776-mile route to nudge young adults into election participation.

At colleges they deliver voter registration forms or online registration instructions to those who need them. For registered voters living away from their precincts, they have details on absentee voting.

"Our purpose, our mission, is to grow enthusiasm for the youth vote," Goldberg said.

Slipping statistics

In 1972, half of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted, according to records from the National Association of Secretaries of State. Sixteen years later, 36 percent of that group cast a ballot. And by the time of the presidential election in 1996, voter participation was down to 32 percent for young people. Two years ago, less than 20 percent of the people in that age range cast a ballot.

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One reason for the small youth turnout in 1998 might have been because there was not a presidential election. Many voters go to the polls only for national elections.

But whatever the reason, the three bikers want to stop those slipping statistics.

On the trail

Bruder and his partners started their trip September 15 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and will end it on Election Day, November 7, just south of San Diego, California, at the border between the United States and Mexico. The trio travels 50 to 60 miles each day, with two on their bikes and one following in a car with registration forms and election-related material.

David Pines
David Pines, 16, says he pays attention to the promises that candidates make to voters  

They include high schools on their journey, even though most of the students will not be old enough to vote. Goldberg said their purpose at high schools is to psych the students up for voting by helping them realize that participation in the electoral process determines their fate.

Offering directions on how to approach school officials about lunch menus, school starting times or curriculum teaches students how to use a system to make changes, said Goldberg, who is from Madison, Connecticut.

"Young people are affected by laws -- license laws that tell them when they can drive, who can be with them, curfews for driving," Goldberg explained. "People who are elected make those laws, and young people should have a voice in deciding who makes those decisions."

Parker, who grew up in Barrington, Rhode Island, said he encourages high school students to look to the future and consider what candidates say about issues that matter to them such as the environment or Internet security.

David Pines, a 16-year-old junior at Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, is too young to vote now but he said he is watching the candidates and listening to what they say.

"I want to know what they are promising to do," David said, "because in the next election I'll be old enough to vote and I'll know if they kept their promises or not.

"Voting makes a difference in everything that goes on," he said, "like whether or not some people will be able to get an education because there might not be affirmative action."

More than a privilege

Bruder said he's biking because he wants young people to realize that voting is more than a privilege.

"It's a duty to one's self," said Bruder, 23.

While at John Marshall Alternative High School in Seattle, Washington, Bruder said he stressed how voting could change the lives of the students there who have become pregnant, gotten involved in drugs or been suspended from school.

"The students in that school have a very long list of what they would change," Bruder said. "...When you realize life isn't for you what (life) is for other people, you have an incentive to vote."

Andrei Cherny is young and rising
August 18, 2000
Vote for sale
August 17, 2000
Technology may turnaround low voter turnout
June 21, 2000

Bike for Youth Votes
Views of first-time voters
Federal Election Commission
Fighting voter apathy
Voting Rights Act Of 1965
African-American odyssey: The civil rights era
Woman suffrage movement
American experience: Suffrage history

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